Like the other children in classroom 4B, Jordan Stein is constantly in trouble, yet no one truly understands how family life may affect his behavior.
Four months ago, Jordan’s father was taken to jail, and Jordan still doesn’t know why. His tearfully struggling mother wants to protect Jordan and refuses to give him the full story. The accessible, slim chapter book never says that his mom is battling depression, but all the signs are there. Meanwhile, Jordan hates school and never wants to go, believing he will be able to drop out and make his way as a welder like his father. This antipathy to school could be due to his teacher, who is constantly sending him to the detention-happy principal. “Detention is a lot like jail,” Jordan realizes as he serves his time. The author hints at but never fully develops this exploration of how the school-prison nexus operates in U.S. society, where unmet human needs are masked as individual delinquency instead of deeper institutional failures. Jordan, with newfound illicit creative success with a stolen spray paint can, finds himself at a crossroads: He can continue to associate with his up-to-no-good friends—or make the better choice, an undermining message. The book studiously avoids racial descriptions.
Refusing demeaning single stories about “troublemaking” children, Kelly could make something truly transformative but opts for a convenient landing. (Fiction. 10-14)