Test results may prove that 12-year-old Gabriel Carpenter is St. Jude Middle School’s only resident genius, but Mensa status sure doesn’t seem to make life any easier.
Gabe still can’t open his own locker or come up with anything intelligent to say to Becca Piccarelli. He stinks at sports, and to make matters worse, his second-best friend, brainy Maya, will barely speak to him anymore. Things get even more complicated when Gabe and Maya find themselves on the same team in the Middle School Academic Olympics. Though the first-person narration frequently feels forced and the book would have benefitted from a subtler attempt at humor than the clichéd boy-book-fart-jokes Haynes relies on, Gabe is a sympathetic underdog middle-grade readers will likely enjoy rooting for. At its core, this is clearly religious fiction, with references to saints and prayer throughout, but Gabe’s struggle to reconcile his gifts with the traditional social dictates of what’s cool and what’s not transcend affiliation. Arguably the most compelling plotline in the novel centers on Gabe’s struggle to fit in at home: Though his father is admittedly thrilled by his son’s confirmed genius, his actions lead Gabe to believe that he would prefer a star athlete to a star student.
Given its enduring themes, this novel from a small Catholic press has some potential for crossover appeal. (Fiction. 9-12)