The Great Greene Heist - Varian Johnson

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz.... But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair -- loser of the Blitz -- announces he's running for school president, against Jackson's former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn't talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won't welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn't the only thing he wants to win.
(Description courtesy of Goodreads)

It's always great when I have the opportunity write a review of a book that is not only good, but also centre's on a non-white protagonist (who is featured on the cover!) and has a cast of characters that are diverse in terms of racial identity and social status (who are also featured on the cover!). Jackson Greene is perhaps not the most considerate of certain aspects of the legal system, but he has learned to bend the rules to help his friends and to show the real bad guys a lesson. In this case, Jackson assembles a team to help him thwart the conniving Keith Sinclair, who he knows is scheming to rig the school election!

Johnson's storytelling is tight and the suspense and secrecy keeps readers on the edge of their toes. Bits and pieces of the truth are scattered like Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs, leading the reader to a satisfying conclusion, though one in which we must rely on the protagonist to fully explain. There's the plan, the execution, the double-cross, and much more (some of the more obscure terms are also defined in a glossary of Jackson's past cons.)

Though the book takes place in junior high, some of the scheming and dialogue felt a bit more high school to me. Perhaps I'm just used to working with immature junior high students, but I often had to remind myself what grade most of these kids were/are in. Also, as I noted earlier, this book reads like a middle school Ocean's Eleven. And, as with those in Ocean's Eleven, there was some collateral damage that I was hoping would be more fully resolved. Omar, a boy who likes Gaby and works throughout the book to gain her favor, gets lost in the resolution of the novel,  never to be heard from again. And while I know he's not part of the ensemble cast, I was still left feeling like the others had manipulated him and then left him to suffer in the end.

That being said, I did enjoy the book a lot. I read it quite quickly, constantly engaged with the characters and plot. It was a fun ride, and one which with capture the attention of many a young reader. Johnson knows how to handle a complex plot without letting it get out of control. I definitely Recommend this book, and hope that it will be a popular pick, not just for the diversity of characters, but also for the humor and suspense.

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