An affectionate and entertaining glimpse at a renowned college’s offbeat campus life.



In this graphic novel, an MIT freshman quickly finds himself immersed in the university’s long-standing tradition of elaborate pranks.

Jim Walden has had aspirations of becoming an astronaut since he was a child. His dream becomes a real possibility once he earns a full-tuition scholarship to MIT. He manages this with a viral video of himself solving a Rubik’s Cube, or at least that’s the effect he hoped to achieve. At MIT, senior Luke Bardolf spots Jim’s video trickery and uses it as blackmail. The university is notorious for student “hacks” (pranks), and each year the best one wins the anonymously bestowed Golden Dome trophy. If Jim doesn’t help fraternity Alpha Zeta Omicron garner its fourth consecutive Golden Dome, Luke will inform MIT of the apparent fraud. Jim accepts the terms though he’s reluctant, especially because, prior to his university admission, he had been kicked out of high school for a prank. He befriends fellow freshman Dexter Garfinkel, a socially awkward nerd who was recruited by AZO so he could do all the “problem sets” (homework) for the pledge class. As the days pass, the pledges pull—and occasionally suffer from—various hacks while Jim acts on his romantic interest in Natalie, a receptionist at a fertility clinic. But devising a trophy-winning hack takes a back seat to Luke’s incessant pranks, some of which blatantly violate MIT’s rules (including the one requiring nondestructive results). He and Jim initiate a prank war that could end up with someone seriously injured—or with Jim once again expelled from school. This novel from Altes (The Little Book of Bad Business Advice, 1997, etc.) and illustrator Fish (The Misadventures of Adam West, 2015, etc.) is a surprisingly lighthearted tale of college pranks. Altes explains in his introduction that, while the story is set in the smartphone era, some elements coincide with his time at MIT in the 1980s (for example, a lack of women on campus). It gives the book an old-school appeal, reinforced by blond Jim donning a red jacket and resembling James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Fish’s sharp, naturalistic images are gleefully offset by visual jokes, like the AZO trophy case housing a few Eisner Awards (comic-book awards). In the same vein, pranks are generally amusing, especially considering their complexities, and not outright malicious until the hack war begins. That conflict is also indicative of how pranks can go wrong. Altes’ introduction details the potential dangers of hacks as well as fraternity and sorority hazing. As MIT students populate the story, intellectual comedy is in abundance and, thankfully, never highfalutin. For example, when Luke presents the 12-sided Dice of Doom to determine a pledge’s specific punishment, someone wisely notes that, as there’s only one, it should be called the Die of Doom. Subplots give both the narrative and protagonist depth, such as Jim’s attempts to drop off food for the “bridge troll,” a burly, eccentric man who hangs out daily under the Harvard Bridge. Altes’ concluding notes list a wealth of information on Easter eggs and real-life prank inspirations.

An affectionate and entertaining glimpse at a renowned college’s offbeat campus life.

Pub Date: March 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9963504-4-0

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Relentless Goat Productions

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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