Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: Secrets of New Forest Academy

Secrets of New Forest Academy, the second in Tyler Whitesides’ Janitors series, finds twelve-year-old Spencer Zumbro and his loyal friend, the gullible Daisy Gates, going into hiding at an elite prep school. The Bureau of Educational Maintenance (BEM), whose mission is to infest schools with magical Toxites that sap students of their abilities to concentrate, has learned of Spencer’s alliance with the rebel janitorial force that seeks to thwart the BEM’s nefarious plans. With a rebel janitor among its staff, New Forest Academy promises to be a safe haven for Spencer and Daisy. The only problem is, once the duo arrives, Spencer and Daisy find that their anticipated liaison has been replaced by a shady janitor named Slick. Their connection to the outside world presumably lost, Spencer and Daisy must figure out who is friend and who is foe.

As the first entry in the series, Whiteside’s Janitors was a charming, entertaining, and recommendable read. As the sequel, Secrets of New Forest Academy legitimizes Whiteside’s presence in the admittedly bloated genre of young adult fantasy series writers. Genuinely clever and frequently funny, Secrets reads with an ease that is not merely the byproduct of aiming at a younger audience. Whiteside’s writing has matured noticeably since his 2011 debut, the thinly-veiled morality lessons of book #1 pleasantly omitted here. This isn’t to say that the book is perfect. The parallels to Harry Potter are hard to miss, such as Spencer’s discovery that he has a psychic connection to the enemy. There are also times when the narrative seems to get sloppy, leaving gaping questions in the mind of the reader. In actuality, those questions will all be answered within a few more pages of reading, and yet it seems the reader’s temporary beguilement should be better reflected in the fictional characters themselves. It’s a minor complaint, but one that takes the reader that much more out of the story.

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