Wanted: A Smart, Cool & Capable Con Artist –
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson,
reviewed today by Hilary Taber.
Saving the school — one con at a time.
A Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014.
– ☆ Kirkus, Starred Review
At the bookstore where I work, every so often I get a book request that goes like this, “Do you know a book that’s like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, only it’s for kids?” Evidently, mom or dad is a fan of the movie, and the whole family just watched it together for the first time. It’s usually this family’s son (now a fan of Ferris as well) who is looking for a book with a character like Ferris; someone who is young, smart, capable, and cool. For this reason alone, I am so grateful that Varian Johnson wrote The Great Greene Heist (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 10-15) because only now do I finally have a book that I can recommend to them!
Jackson Greene is not your average middle schooler. Despite being the son of a police officer, he’s been well trained by his grandfather to be (allegedly) a con artist. Now, let me be very clear that Jackson’s cons are Robin Hood in nature. He’s on the side of the angels. Well, more specifically there’s one main angel, and that would be Gaby.
Gaby is Jackson’s friend and possible girl friend. There’s one problem though, and that is that Gaby is not anything close to being Jackson’s friend when the book begins. Let’s just say they have had a bit of a falling out. Just goes to show you that life is tough because not only did Jackson Greene have to turn over a new leaf after the last con he pulled for a good cause, he also now begins to see that Gaby’s run for student council president isn’t going well.
Gaby is running against her classmate, Keith. Keith is the kind of person who will pull any strings he can (such as paying off the school principal with a little help from his dad) to win against Gaby. Jackson Greene may have tried to reform, but he can’t just stand by and watch Gaby lose to Keith. Jackson has to think of the best con he could ever pull to ensure that Keith will be defeated. If there’s one thing that Jackson knows it’s that he has to be Gaby’s friend once again, and if he has to con on the side of justice he will! He’ll definitely need a lot of help along the way, and it’s a good thing that one of the most important things that Jackson knows how to do well is how to be a good friend. He’ll need all his friends now more than ever before if he’s going to successfully pull off the Great Greene Heist.
The real draw of the book, as many other reviewers have noted, is that here we have the dream of independence in the familiar setting of middle school. Only this time that dream has come true to a great extent because of the character of Jackson Greene. Here’s a kid who is in middle school, who is definitely a leader, but he never uses that against other kids. Jackson is the kind of leader who knows when to pass the ball, so to speak, to another kid if that’s what it takes to get the job done. He also knows how to get what he wants with a little help from his friends even if bending the rules is what it takes.
What I love about this book is that the array of characters is so diverse. Just look at that cover! Could you ask for more diversity than that? I have to admit I teared up a bit at just the mention of Jackson’s friend, Gaby, going to Mass because I am Roman Catholic. Going to Mass is just not something that gets mentioned much in children’s literature. Plus, in this book, it’s more than okay to be something of a geek, especially if you’re at all inclined towards the tech side of geekdom because you will be needed in any con Jackson Greene has going. I was so happy to see that! Perhaps the biggest surprise for me came when I read about Megan, cheerleader and proud geek. Yes! I almost cheered myself! I know girls who are like Megan, and I’m proud of them. No, they usually aren’t cheerleaders as well, but they do know their way around a computer. They watch Star Wars, Star Trek, they love gaming, and they often feel left out in this usually male geek dominated world. In The Great Greene Heist we will have no more of that thanks to Varian Johnson! There’s something here for just about everyone. Are you the sports type? No problem, Jackson and Gaby are, too. How about student government type? Student government was never so interesting as in this book. Do you tend to associate with the art crowd? Again, you’re represented. Thanks so much to Varian Johnson who shows us that, for the cause of justice, we are all needed, appreciated, and finally very close to being totally represented.
Buy the book today at your favorite indie bookstore and take the Great Greene challenge. Click here for more details.