Clay learns that it’s easy to get into trouble but far more difficult to get out of it in this breezy Scared Straight–type novel for the elementary-school set.
Clay has finesse. He can create mischief with such cheerful aplomb that he can charm even the principal’s assistant, who has been documenting Clay’s misdeeds since kindergarten. A clever boy and a talented artist, Clay is bursting with enthusiasm for his pranks. Clay loves and emulates his older brother, Mitch, who was the pre-eminent troublemaker before him. However, Mitch, unlike Clay, has taken his misdeeds to a level of aggression that fun-loving Clay does not. The day Mitch is to come home from prison, Clay undertakes a master antic to impress him and is devastated when Mitch slaps him and demands that he shape up or else end up like himself. Thus begins a makeover, as Mitch gets Clay a new wardrobe and stipulates new rules by which to live. Clay is certain that he looks like Mr. Potato Head with his new haircut, but he’s dedicated to pleasing his brother. School provides terrific opportunities for mischief that Clay finds hard to resist, especially the launchable lunch food. But the hardest part of this new life is the rift growing between him and his best buddy, co-trickster Hank. Clements here enters into provocative territory and pulls it off like the pro he is. Kids will easily relate to Clay, and the secondary characters come alive as well.With easygoing prose enhanced by occasional sketches, this slender school story does its job with no trouble at all. (Fiction. 8-12)