Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – The Merits of Mischief: The Bad Apple

Not long ago I entered a contest on Twitter, asking entrants to detail a mischievous  act. I told about the time I filled the fountain in front of city hall with laundry soap and red food coloring so it was pink and bubbly the next day. Ah, high school.

Anyway, I won the contest and the prize was a super fun promo pack for T.R. Burns’s THE MERITS OF MISCHIEF: THE BAD APPLE. Here’s the blurb:

Bad Apple (The Merits of Mischief #1)Quirky and irreverent new middle-grade series about a group of kids being trained to cause trouble!

For all of his 12 years, Seamus Hinkle has stayed out of trouble, but on one fateful afternoon in the Cloudview Middle School cafeteria, Seamus accidentally does the unthinkable—a substitute teacher is dead, and Seamus is to blame. Unable to return to Cloudview, Seamus’ parents take him to the most infamous of reform schools: Kilter Academy. But when Seamus’ parents drive off, headmistress Annika Kilter shows her true colors: she’s not interested in reforming delinquents, but quite the opposite—the mission of Kilter Academy is to foster troublemaking, and she’s decided Seamus is her star pupil! Together with his new mischief-making friends, Seamus lives every young boy’s dream of getting points for getting in trouble! But soon Seamus discovers that Kilter Academy may have more plans in store for its students than just turning out troublemakers…

I read this book in a day. It’s pretty short, just under 60,000 words with a reading level of grade 4. I can see what Burns is setting up here, and there is great potential in this series, but this book felt a bit like a very long prologue. The main problem, for me, is that Seamus’s GOAL was never articulated. The goal of punking all the teachers one by one just didn’t really grab me. Because of the nature of the school this is kind of like setting a protagonist in a typical school story the goal of getting good grades. It’s such a shame, because there is so much potential mayhem in this premise, but it was never exploited.

So much is left unexplained. Why does this school exist? What possible purpose could these mischief makers serve? Is there some nefarious secret? WHO is the antagonist? There doesn’t seem to be one. All we have a are a bunch of kids at school doing their assignments. Yes, the assignments are funny (in principle) but in reality how these pranks play out are much less funny and entertaining than my bubbles in the fountain. For example, when Seamus pranks one of his teachers all he needs to do is whistle at him from a hidden place in the washroom. Huh? How is that exciting?

This premise needed to be thought out more completely. T. R. Burns is apparently an accomplished author (whose true identity is secret) and this is certainly well written. And, as I said, the premise is great. Where it falls down is characters and plot. There’s just not enough to go on.

The next book in this series comes out next year and hopefully it will more completely exploit this premise. As it is THE BAD APPLE just doesn’t cut it. Not yet.

PaleFor this week’s I can’t wait to read, I’m going with PALE by Chris Wooding. I spotted this on Netgalley and the creepy cover and the fact that it’s a hi/lo book intrigued me. Kobo time!

Find more MMGM fun here:

9 thoughts on “Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – The Merits of Mischief: The Bad Apple

  1. First of all- how funny about the prank you pulled in high school! I really like the cover of The Bad Apple and the idea behing it sounds promising. Hopefully the next book in the series will flush out more of the ideas- like the point behind the school and who the antagonist is. Glad to hear the writing is good. I have never seen this book- but since it only took a day to read I may pick it up. It sounds like a book some of my 5th grade students might enjoy. Awesome review!

  2. Like you I was excited to read what it was about because of the premise. Characters are a big deal to me so that is disappointing. It sounds like you are going to give it another try with the next book, which means the writing must have been good. I may wait to see what you have to say, however, before I rush out and buy anything. Thanks for honest and in depth review.

    1. Yeah, I was disappointed. I hate to do bad reviews because I’m trying to be an evangelist for MG books with MMGM, but I wanted to review this one and I couldn’t spin it more positively than I did. Oh well.

  3. I always struggle mightily with books that serve to set up a series rather than tell a story. every book should be a journey, a step of growth for the character, not just “a bunch of stuff that happens and happens and happens.”

  4. Hmmm, yes on some books in series feeling like prologues. In this case it sounds like it is the first book. Will still check it out, for the writing you mentioned, the cover and the premise. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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