Book Review: Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster by Jennifer Brown

Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster is the start of a new middle grade series by Jennifer Brown. Thomas Fallgrout always thought of himself as a regular kid until the day he accidentally creates a little big of magic using his grandpa's old potions. Suddenly, he's pulled from public school and enrolled in Pennybaker Academy for the Uniquely Gifted, where kids are busy perfecting their chainsaw juggling, unicycling feats, and didgeridoo playing. Pennybaker is full of spirit thanks to its most beloved teacher: the late, great Helen Heirmauser. The school has even erected a statue of her head on a pedestal. Then, life is uprooted when the statue goes missing -- and everyone thinks Thomas is behind its disappearance. Now his head is on the line. As his new friends turn on him, Thomas finds himself pairing up with the only person who will associate with him: his oddball next door neighbor Chip Mason. Together they work to hunt down the missing statue, only to discover that maybe what they've both needed to find all along was true friendship.

Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster has a little bit of everything. Our main character is an earnest middle school boy starting a new school and wanting to fit in, but the people in that new school are more like his grandmother and willing to stand out. Thomas just wants to be seen as normal, and he is having trouble finding his footing. The family dynamics of Thomas, with a controlling mother and daring grandmother at odds with each other, as well as the younger sister and easy going dad was both realistic on some levels but over the top funny in others. I like that Thomas was a sympathetic character, and while I might not have always agreed with his choices, his reasoning and thought process we very relatable and I think will hit a cord with a wind range of readers. I like that there was a touch of mystery, as Thomas tries to solve the theft of the head, but also a strong focus on the friendships and development of self that carried the story forward. I also like that there was a good amount of new vocabulary for readers to learn as they enjoy the series. I also found the occasional pencil drawings to be charming and a nice tough to the book. 

Pennybaker School is Headed for Disaster is a middle grade novel with heart, action, and plenty of angst. I liked the characters and the story, the balance between completely believable and wacky was perfect for me. I am looking forward to checking out the second book in this series, which is scheduled for release the summer of 2018.

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