The Applewhites take their untraditional, ramshackle educational show on the road.
In this third in the Applewhites saga, Jake Semple, cured of his rebel ways at their home-school ranch called Wit’s End, remains with the Applewhites. The entire brood embarks on a cross-country competition to prove their brand of experiential, self-driven learning is the best. If they win, there’s both money and reality TV fame to be had. E.D. and Jake’s first kiss hasn’t quite gone as expected, so when trouble arrives in the form of a gorgeous bad-girl named Melody Aiko Bernstein, Jake is struck dumb and E.D. is simmeringly jealous. Jake’s and E.D.’s thoughts are revealed in alternating, third-person–limited chapters, while the rest of the quirky cast play out their roles in the background. The Art Bus goes from assigned stop to assigned stop per the competition’s directive, amid myriad mishaps such as wayward crushes, stolen cars, embarrassing theater performances, minimakeovers, and cockroach infestations. Through sarcastic wit and sweet charm by turns, Melody manipulates the Applewhites, begging the question of everyone’s integrity. This road trip is long and, despite its jumble of events, often tedious. Jake and the Applewhites are white; diversity is mostly conveyed by naming convention, as with Melody’s Japanese middle name and yoga teacher/family cook Govindaswami’s Indian one.
A humdrum adventure that muddily tries to convey the notion that all of life’s students are also teachers. (Fiction. 8-13)