Review: The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)

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The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)
by Neil Swaab

My Rating:

Note: The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying) will be released on Tuesday, September 1st by ABRAMS Kids. A link to preorder is included at the bottom of this review.

When I picked up The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying), I expected to find a mix of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the 2000s classic TV show Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. The cover and description led me to believe that the main character, Max Corrigan, would lead the reader through some of the trials and errors experienced in middle school, while showing us how to take the high road. Instead, Max absolutely takes the low road through the entire book.

The book is set up in an interesting way, with narrator Max speaking to “you,” the new kid, who just arrived at his school. Max gives you advice and tips as you navigate your first 5 days of school. During those days, you get in trouble with the Principal and try to make your way into all the social groups. Meanwhile, Max is dealing with his arch nemesis, Kevin, who has it out for you too.

While the concept of this book sounds interesting and engaging for the 4th – 6th grade set, I don’t expect it to appear on classroom shelves anytime soon. Unfortunately, the book is filled with inappropriate language, references that will not click for the intended age group, raunchy humor, and off-color jokes. Students may have a tough time understanding the use of words like “goons,” “scrubs,” and “amazeballs.” References to people like Louis C.K. may go over the heads of 10 year old readers.  Jokes comparing teachers to Nazis are present in this book, as well as thinly-veiled swear words.

Additionally, the advice given by Max Corrigan will not help students, and may in fact get them in serious trouble. Hopefully, readers will realize that much of the book is satire, but if they don’t, they will be left with advice on how to hack people’s social media accounts, scam students into giving them money, and use swears and rude language to interrupt class. In an era where cyber bulling is a real and scary concept, advice on how to hack the passwords of classmates should not be given to students.

Secrets to Ruling School does have some redeeming factors, including the fantastic illustrations done by Neil Swaab and the engaging plotline of Max’s struggle with his nemesis, Kevin Carl. Additionally, a plot twist readers won’t be expecting adds intrigue to the story. Parts of the book are laugh out loud funny with appropriate humor, but this book only receives 2 stars because appropriate humor is unfortunately hard to find.

The publisher recommends this book for the 10-14 age group. I think the book is inappropriate for 10 and 11 year olds, and 12-14 year olds will find most of the humor childish. While Neil Swaab has great promise as an illustrator and children’s author, his first book does not seem to be a good fit for classroom shelves.

Book Information
Title: The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)
Author: Neil Swaab
Publisher: ABRAMS Kids
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Price: US $13.95
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this text from ABRAMS Kids in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own!


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