Penguin, 2016 267 pgs.
George, a trouble making child from a large family, is kidnapped and whisked away to a secret school: Pilfer Academy, a place where potential thieves are trained. He is placed with a competitive and difficult roommate, but begins to make friends with fellow misfit and the most recent student besides himself, Tabitha. At first Pilfer seems like a school that is right up George's alley and he begins to excel. After a while the cracks begin to show. The strange teachers tend to repeat their lessons and only thieving skills are taught, advancement is at the whim of the administration and can take years, and worst of all, students who get in trouble find themselves on the "Whirlyblerg"; a crazy carnival ride that shakes the rider up beyond reason. Midterms approach and the students are expected to pull-off actual heists. George thinks this will be no problem until he is expected to steal a teddy bear from a sleeping toddler. George begins to realize that maybe this school isn't for him and starts to question the system. Tabitha also reaches the same conclusions and the two plan to escape, but there is no way out of Pilfer Academy and the telephones are carefully hidden. The two disgruntled students must find a way to break into the illusive teachers lounge, locate the phone, and expose Pilfer Academy for the thieving sham that it is. Help comes from unexpected places and mayhem ensues as the teachers and students alike must run for their lives as George and Tabitha's plan unfurls.
Magaziner is a relatively new author to children's books.This sophomore offering contains action and adventure with a hint of mystery and humor. It reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, both in its content and writing style. The professors are bumbling and absurd, which will amuse readers and the students are all clueless and strange. George and Tabitha appear to be the only sain people in a sea of crazy, which will help readers to identify with them and to experience the action through their eyes. The book goes a little over the top, but kids won't care. Academies for spies, wizards, child-astronauts, superheroes, and villains abound, but this is the first I have seen for thieves. Boarding schools make great children's books because the parents are out of the way and the kids are allowed to act independently, discovering things on their own and solving their own problems. Magaziner does not glorify thievery and actually has the protagonists question this practice and put a stop to it. Not the stuff of great fiction, but different, fresh, and written with young reader's in mind, Pilfer Academy is sure to find an audience and circulate well in the library. This book leaves room for sequels or can remain as a stand-alone. I guess all will depend on the popularity of this first title.