by Arthur Slade
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Newton Goddard Starker lives with a mysterious curse: his family attracts lightning.
Nearly all of the Starker family have died from lightning strikes, including Newton's beloved mother. Fourteen-year-old Newton, the last in the Starker line, is determined not to be next, and he may have found a way to beat the odds. He has enrolled at Jerry Potts Academy for Survival, a boarding school in Moose Jaw, Canada, whose motto is Survival Through Fierce Intelligence. Newton's ready to learn, and to be remembered in the school's Hall of Heroes.
What Newton hasn't counted on is the other students. For a boy who's spent most of his life in a protective dome, making friends is sometimes as challenging as surviving. Especially when he's vying for top marks with the dynamo Violet Quon.
Throw in a supertalented pig, students in kilts, wacky teachers, and some important questions about fate and the universe, and you've got an irresistible story that's as unique as Jerry Potts Academy.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one. I'd never heard of it, and I only bought it because I found it in the bargain bin and it looked vaguely interesting.
It was a relief to read something that was generally well written, though I would expect as much from a middle grade novel (it's the young adult stuff that usually has the writing/editing/grammar issues). While I'm pretty sure most 14-year-old boys don't talk the way Newton and his friends did, the style worked well enough in the context of the novel. Some of the descriptions were really well done, and I'll probably always remember that Newton's great-grandmother was "as friendly as a pickled wolverine" (a phrase like that tends to stick in your head)! I liked the inclusion of Josephine, Newton's pet pig (even though it was pretty unrealistic), and the academy, with its kilt uniforms and Scottish flavour, was interesting. However, there were a few points that kind of turned me off.
The Jerry Potts Academy is a school that teaches survival skills, and apparently that includes killing whatever crosses your path and eating it. There was a particularly disgusting scene about halfway through the book that had me (and many of the students in the book) gagging. It might be right up a 12-year-old male reader's alley, but it was a bit much for this 30-something female reader. Later in the book, it's implied that a person might get dizzy, pass out, and hallucinate after not eating meat for a couple of meals. Aside from being a bit insulting to the intelligence of vegetarians, it's downright ridiculous and untrue. And since Newton was something of an aspiring chef, I would have expected him to be a little more knowledgeable about food.
The last part of the novel reminded me of The Hunger Games, only much more lighthearted and of course nobody died (although when Newton kept thinking things like kill or be killed, I was a bit worried). The story was different, with the Starker family curse (lightning!) and some of the characters were interesting... but there were some things that could have been done better. I would have liked to know more about the school and see more about the teachers (we only really get to know a couple). Plus, the ending is rather ambiguous and almost seems tailor-made for a sequel... except there isn't one.
Overall, it was fairly entertaining. I might be more inclined to recommend it to its intended audience, though; some parts were a bit puerile for my taste.
Overall: 3.86 out of 5