Reassembling the cast of The Mysterious Matter of I.M. Fine , Stanley delivers another humorous and thoroughly enjoyable mystery, this time set at a too-good-to-be-true school. When Franny Sharp's younger sister, Zo, is recruited to attend Allbright Academy, a prestigious boarding school founded by two famous scientists, she refuses to attend unless her twin, J.D., and Franny can come, too. That's how Franny, who believes herself solidly ordinary, finds herself starting eighth grade surrounded by the best-looking group of overachievers she's ever seen. Intimidated at first by her award-winning classmates, she quickly bonds with fellow new students Cal (short for Calpurnia) and Brooklyn, and starts to flourish. In fact, Franny's never felt smarter, looked better or worked harder in her life. But when Cal falls sick and has to leave the campus for a few weeks, she stumbles upon an unsettling discovery. Just what do the ever-present Allbright brownies have to do with making Allbright students so painfully perfect in every way? With sympathetic Franny as narrator and a time-tested premise, Stanley hooks readers from the start, and she keeps them going with characters whose names hint at their true natures (besides the Salinger-inspired Sharp kids, the players include Martha Evergood, Prescott Bottomy and Dr. Horace Gallow). And although some answers to the mystery are obvious early on, the conclusion does not disappoint. Ages 8-12. (Jan.)[Page 54]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-7-- Frannie knows that she got into Allbright Academy only because the directors were desperate to recruit her brilliant younger sister, who refused to come without her. The prestigious boarding school generally admits only handpicked students, the "leaders of tomorrow," as the headmaster constantly reinforces. Although the campus is beautiful, with state-of-the-art facilities, a challenging program, and excellent food--including the school's traditional brownies--Frannie finds the place unnervingly perfect. Outside influences and contact are discouraged and there is a disturbing emphasis on group conformity. The kids are unfailingly polite, neat, and focused, and, most of all, compliant. When Frannie realizes that she is slipping into the Allbright "persona" herself, she begins to suspect that there is something sinister going on. She discovers that the brownies contain a behavior-modification drug, calculated to make the students more "receptive" to indoctrination. For decades, the school has been programming them for important positions in business, government, and the media. Not only are current students being "moderated," but key graduates are invited back periodically for a refresher course of drugs and direction. Can Frannie and her friends fight back and expose the school's plot to control the future of the country in time? This suspenseful story features an all-too-plausible conflict between authoritarian control and personal freedom. The action is brisk and exciting, with authentic and often insightful dialogue. There is also a strong underlying theme of individual courage and self-determination.--Elaine E. Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, IL[Page 212]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.