Atheneum, 2011 160 pgs
Realistic Fiction/School Story
Sixth-grader Clay can't help causing trouble. His file at school is extremely thick and he is a regular visitor to Principal Kelling's office. His latest incident involves drawing a picture in art class of the principal as a donkey (or "jackass"). The teacher sends him to see the big man himself and he goes gleefully and unrepentant. All changes when Clay's brother Mitchell, whom he idolizes, is released from prison. Mitchell has reformed and forces Clay to do the same. He promises Mitchell he will no longer get into ANY trouble. cuts his long hair, and starts to dress conservatively. Clay's best friend and partner in crime, Hank, is confused and angry at the transformation. When Clay's art work is sabotaged and he is framed for vandalism, he tries to figure out who is responsible, with unexpected results. Changing his bad-boy ways doesn't come easy for Clay, but in time he starts to enjoy the results of achieving and good behavior.
A former teacher, Clements is the master of the school story. He expertly captures the flavor, workings, and hierarchy of a school setting and knows how kids think and speak. He also manages to uncover common everyday situations that students encounter and subtly demonstrates how to manage them. Kids will relate to Clay's story. Even if they aren't troublemakers, they know someone who is. Clay does not intend to be bad; he is simply following in his beloved big brother's footsteps. Once reformed, Clay is aware of the error of his ways and demonstrates character growth and maturity. Even though the cover looks like a typical Clement's school story, because of the subject matter, Troublemaker is a bit more serious than Clements usual fair and lacks his characteristic humor. Also, it is intended for a slightly older audience than, let's say. Frindle. Topics such as vandalism, incarceration, and some cursing are involved, so it is recommended for older elementary and middle school readers. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book. It is a great choice for reluctant readers and for kids "too cool" for reading. It also would work well as a classroom read-aloud. This book also has an anti-bullying message, which makes it very relevant to today's culture. you can't go wrong with Andrew Clements and this book is a great edition to his already bulging shelf.