To Catch a Cheat (Jackson Greene #2) by Varian Johnson. Arthur A. Levine, 2016. 256 pages.
Casing the Joint: Fun middle grades read in the vein of Ocean’s 11
The Plan: Jackson Greene (renowned for his clever heists) and his cronies find themselves framed: a faked video shows that they were the ones who snuck into the school over the weekend and flooded the bathrooms. The villains bargain with Jackson: they won’t turn the video in if Jackson and his group steal an exam. There’s more than meets the eye, however, and the stakes are raised.
The Sting: The first Jackson Greene book was a lot of fun, and this one continues the trend nicely. Characters are nicely diverse, pacing is excellent (definitely a page turner), and the plot is clever. Jackson and his love interest add some humor and relational angles that middle schoolers will totally resonate with. And Jackson’s friendship with Charlie undergoes some strain that is handled quite realistically.
The entire book is concerned with stealing an exam and pulling various tricks in order to do so. On the surface, this may seem quite the nefarious plot without redeeming qualities. However, the heist is over the top (nobody could pull this off in middle school), and the plot forms the base for a very fun read that is pure entertainment. Both guys and girls will enjoy this one, and it’s refreshing to have a nicely diverse cast of characters that aren’t simply a historical lesson on racism or the Civil Rights or immigration or some other “problem.”