Six seventh-graders in small-town Massachusetts reluctantly spend school vacation week participating in a restorative-practice justice circle in hopes of identifying a vandal.
Amateur photographer Theo is the victim of a hate crime—his self-portraits in the student gallery defaced with “scribbled threats [and] gay slurs” and followed by a seemingly related incident in the darkroom—yet none of the five students who were in the gallery at the time admit culpability. A “non-horrible” teacher brings Theo and the five suspects together in a radical approach to conflict resolution, reminding them that “all of us are fighting unseen battles.” Told primarily through Theo’s first-person present-tense perspective, punctuated by daily assessments completed by his classmates, the book resists casting any one character as the obvious perpetrator. In true Breakfast Club fashion, the time spent together is sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic, and it leaves secrets revealed—one student recently lost a sibling, several are navigating cultural expectations and stereotypes, Theo’s dad split last year—and intimate connections forged. Fans of Levy’s Fletcher Family series about two white dads and their adopted sons will recognize Jax Fletcher. Of the five suspects, Jax and Andre are African-American, while Alice Shu appears Asian, and Molly and Erik are identified as white along with Theo. Both refreshingly and frustratingly, Theo’s sexual orientation is never made explicit; the text emphasizes the impact of the harassment rather than the relevance of its content.
A timely, introspective whodunit with a lot of heart. (Fiction. 8-14)