Almost all tweens can identify with being the “new kid” in school. In Alibi Junior High, thirteen-year-old Cody Saron’s challenge is magnified. He’s never been to school before – ever! Instead, he’s traveled the globe as his CIA-agent father’s protégé. Author Greg Logsted guides first-person narrator Cody through the middle school maze in this highly-readable, entertaining tween novel.
Cody and his secret agent dad have recently survived a bombing at a South American sidewalk café. Fearing for Cody’s life, Dad sends him to live with Aunt Jenny in suburbia. Thrust into an unfamiliar and unfriendly territory – the local middle school – Cody finds his sophisticated skill set totally lacking. Interactions with teachers are strained from day one, and he can’t relate to peers who are more interested in cell phones and locker room pranks. Still, Cody plods along and tries to fit in. Along the way he forges sincere relationships with his Aunt Jenny and a neighbor who’s just returned from a tour of duty in the Iraq War.
His previous high-octane secret agent lifestyle, coupled with flashbacks of the café bombing, make it nearly impossible for Cody to relax. He has trouble sleeping. He sneaks out of the house for nightly patrols around the woods that border Aunt Jenny’s cottage. His paranoia is not unfounded; on one nightly mission he sees a mysterious stalker in the woods! The book concludes with an action-packed, suspenseful hostage situation, which should be enough to keep readers engaged through the ending.
Alibi Junior High’s strong point is it’s main character, Cody. He presents a distinct voice throughout the book, working his way through crises and adjustments. Although he’s the smartest kid in school, and has experiences his teachers could only dream about, Cody doesn’t come-off as snobby or condescending. He shows a great deal of compassion toward an overweight, bullied classmate, and even experiences his first teenage crush. By the end of the book, we’re cheering as Cody straddles the line between selling out and just being himself. That a line very familiar to most tween readers.
A few issues keep the book from being a stellar tween-lit offering. Almost all of the adults who work at the school – administrators, teachers, the security guard – are portrayed as insensitive dolts who are just concerned with maintaining order. No grown-ups have a kind word for the new kid. (My suburban middle school experience is quite the opposite.) After the first few pages, I’m grimacing every time Cody begins an interaction with any adult who works at the school.
Some teachers and parents may take exception to Cody’s rise in popularity, which occurs only after he uses his martial arts skills to fight his way out of a locker room confrontation, and later pulls a destructive prank in the science lab. That’s not the best way to win friends. Sure, the fight was self-defense, and laid the groundwork for reconciliation with the bullies. But the science prank was quite childish for a character we’ve come to respect over the previous chapters.
But that’s middle school; boys and girls spend a lot of time figuring out who they want to be. It’s on-the-job training, and junior high is Cody’s toughest assignment yet. Despite a few flaws, Alibi Junior High deserves a place on your middle school library shelves and in your classroom library collection.