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The Great Greene Heist

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Saving the school -- one con at a time.

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz.... But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair -- loser of the Blitz -- announces he's running for school president, against Jackson's former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn't talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won't welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn't the only thing he wants to win.

240 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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Varian Johnson

31 books330 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 494 reviews
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,836 followers
May 1, 2014
What is the ultimate child fantasy? I’m not talking bubble gum sheets and wizards that tell you you’re “the chosen one”. Let’s think a little more realistically here. When a kid looks at the world, what is almost attainable but just out of their grasp for the moment? Autonomy, my friends. Independence. The ability to make your own rules and to have people fall in line. Often this dream takes the form of numerous orphan novels (it’s a lot easier to be independent if you don’t have any pesky parents swooping about), tales in which the child is some form of royalty (orphaned royalty, nine times out of ten), and other tropes. But for some kids, independence becomes a lot more interesting when it’s couched in their familiar, everyday, mundane world. Take middle school as one such setting. It’s a place a lot of kids know about, and it wouldn’t take much prodding for readers to believe that beneath the surface it’s a raging cesspool of corruption and crime. The joy of a book like The Great Greene Heist is manifold, but what I think I’ll take away from it best is author Varian Johnson’s ability to make this a story about a boy who knows how to do something very well (pulling cons) while also telling a compelling tale of a kid who knows what it means to be in charge and never abuses that power. If the ultimate child fantasy is to be in charge, the logical extension of that is to be the kind of person who is also a good leader. With that in mind, this book is poised to make a whole lotta kids very happy.

Since The Blitz at the Fitz the former con king Jackson Greene has gone straight. Trained in the art of conning by his own grandfather, Jackson’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side when things go down. Yet he seems perfectly content to put that all behind him, just tending the flowers of his garden club like he's a normal kid or something. Normal, that is, before he gets wind that something shady is going on and it involves the upcoming school election. Gabriela de la Cruz (a.k.a. Gabby), the girl he inadvertently betrayed, is running for Class President against the ruthless Keith Sinclair. Worse? It looks like Sinclair and his dad have the principal in their pocket and that no matter what Gabby does she’ll be facing a defeat. Now it’s time for Greene to come out of retirement and assemble a crack team to use Keith and the principal’s worst instincts to their ultimate advantage. All it’s going to take is the greatest con Maplewood Middle School has ever seen.

To write a good con novel you have to be a writer confident in your own abilities. Johnson exudes that confidence, particularly when he takes risks. Since, at its essence, this is the story about a boy tricking a girl into doing what he wants, it would be easy for Johnson to slip up at any time and make the storyline either condescending or downright offensive. That he manages not to do this is nothing short of a minor miracle of modern writing. Much of this book is also actively engaged in the act of testing the reader’s sympathies. Johnson is misdirecting his readers as often as he is misdirecting his characters and he’s doing it with the given understanding that if they stick with the story they’ll be amply rewarded with more sympathetic motivations later on down the line. To do this in a book for kids is risky. You’re asking your readers to look at your hero as an antihero. And even if they’re sympathetic to his cause, will that translate into them continuing to read the book? In this case . . . yes.

One takeaway I took from this novel was the fact that Johnson really knows his age bracket. More to the point, he knows what kids today are really like. At first I found myself confused when I discovered that The Tech Club and The Gamer Club in this book were two very distinct and different entities. Under the old rules of middle school literature, anything that sniffed of video games or techie concerns would have been filed under “hopeless geekdom”. But in the 21st century we’re all geeks on some level. We’re all hooked up to our phones and computers. Big plot points in this book focus on the bribing of other kids with video games. The lines are blurring and at no point does anyone, even a bully, call another kid a nerd or geek. That isn’t to say that the bullies are nice or anything. It’s just that when it comes to base insults, some terms just don’t always carry the same cache. The nerds may make our toys but that still doesn’t mean a lot of us are going out and befriending them.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the dearth of kids of color in books for children. Last year I tried to count as many middle grade books starring African-American boys and I topped out at around six or seven (and most of those were written by celebrities). With its truly multicultural cast (name me the last time you read a contemporary book for kids where TWO of the characters were Asian-American and not twins) and black boy hero dead front and center on the cover, we’re looking at a rare beast in the market. Author Varian Johnson also does a dandy job at avoiding certain tropes that librarians and teachers have grown to detest. For example, one way of making it clear what a character’s skin color is (or eye shape) is to compare them to food. I’m sure you’ve read your own fair share of books where the hero had “caramel colored skin” or “almond shaped eyes”. After a while you begin to wonder why the white kids aren’t being described as having “cottage cheese tinted cheeks” or “eyes as round as malted milk balls”. Johnson, for his part, is straightforward. When he wants to make it clear that someone’s black he just says they have “brown skin and black, curly hair”. See? How hard is that?

He also tackles casual racism with great skill and aplomb. At one point Jackson is facing the school’s senior administrative assistant. She says to him “Boys like you are always up to one thing or another.” Jackson’s response? “He hoped she meant something like ‘boys named Jackson’ or ‘boys who are tall,’ but he suspected her generalizations implied something else.” That is incredibly subtle for a middle school book. Some kids won’t pick up on it at all, while others will instantly understand what it is that Johnson is getting at. Because this character is minor (and her assumptions get neatly turned against her later) this storyline is not pursued, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t appreciated. Racism lives on long and strong in the modern world, but few authors for kids think it necessary to point out the fact. They should. It’s important.

Now you would think that since I walked into this knowing it was a kind of junior high Ocean’s 11 I’d have been on the lookout for the twist. All good con films have a twist. Sometimes the twist is good. Sometimes it’s unspeakably lame or capable of stretching your credulity to its limits. I am therefore happy to report that not only does The Great Greene Heist keep you from remembering that twist is coming, when it does come adult readers will be just as flummoxed by it as the kids.

If I were to change one thing about the book, it would be to include something additional. For some readers, keeping characters straight can be difficult. Johnson respects his readers’ instincts and intelligence, so he drops them almost mid-stream into the story. You have to get caught up with Jackson and Gabby’s falling out, and when we start our tale we’re in the aftermath of a once grand friendship. That’s fine, but had a character list been included in the beginning of the book as well, I would have had an easier time distinguishing between each new person we meet. I read this book in an early galley edition, so perhaps this problem will be changed by the time the book reaches publication, but if not then be aware that some readers may need a bit of help parsing the who is who right at the beginning.

You know, we talk a lot about the lack of diversity in our books for kids these days. There’s this two-headed belief that either kids won’t pick up a book with a kid of color on the cover and/or that such books are never fun. And certainly while it may be true that the bulk of multicultural literature for children does delve into serious subjects, there are exceptions to every rule. I look at this book and I think of Pickle by Kimberly Baker. I think of fun books that look amusing and will entice readers. Books that librarians and booksellers will be able to handsell with ease by merely describing the plot. With its fun cover, great premise, and kicky writing complete with twist, this book fulfills the childhood desire for autonomy while also knocking down stereotypes left and right. That it’s like nothing else out there for kids today is a huge problem. Let us hope, then, that it is a sign of more of the same to come.

For ages 10 and up.
Profile Image for Liviania.
957 reviews64 followers
August 18, 2014
Varian Johnson is a local Austin author, so I saw him speak several times back when I lived there. He's been talking the talk and walking the walk about diversity in children's books since before it was trendy. I'm happy to see him make the jump to middle grade and reach a new group of readers.

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST throws the reader right into the deep end with a varied cast of characters and a flurry of references to past escapades. This book is clearly positioned to be the start of a series, but it doesn't waste time. At first I felt like I'd missed a book, but then I caught on. There's very little talking down to the reader.

Jackson Greene is known around school for getting things done, but he's decided to stop interfering ever since his last caper ended up destroying his relationship with his best friend, Gaby. But now his rival and the richest kid in school, Frank Sinclair, is running against Gaby for Student Council President, and Jackson just knows he isn't going to play fair.

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST is one of those books where everyone actually cares about Student Council. If you just go with it, it's fun. It's very much a homage to OCEAN'S 11 and other heist films, with a crackerjack team of nerds who each have their own specialties. The technology is fake, but the cleverness and scheming are real.

This quick-paced novel will appeal to readers looking for an adventure set in the present day. Everything is kept on an age appropriate level, from kissing (just a peck!) to racial tension. Most of the characters a broad types, but Jackson himself is well rounded. THE GREAT GREENE HEIST stands well on its own, but I do hope it gets sequels. It's a fun book.
Profile Image for diana.
50 reviews1 follower
November 17, 2022
it was actually pretty good i enjoyed it i like all the gaby chapters and um GABY + JACKSON>>>>>>>>>> i liked this book and alondra is wrong
Profile Image for Beth.
1,158 reviews118 followers
July 27, 2014
The central conceit of The Great Greene Heist is a middle school principal taking bribes to rig a student council president election. (That's not a spoiler, by the way. That's something presented immediately.)

The rest of the book continues in that vein, but it lacks the verve, the levity, the deft touch to sell that kind of overblown con story. Instead, it tries to be plausible, and as a result it never succeeds at convincing on any level.

From a plot level: pulling off this sort of con and having it be satisfying requires a much better POV perspective. Ocean's Eleven is listed as an influence, but Ocean's Eleven works because it lets viewers witness everything and then reveals the truth. This novel's perspective is much more limited, and so the con never succeeded for me.

From a setting level: the school, from its principal to its budget to its locks, is ridiculous. I'd buy the racist secretary if she was grounded more in the plot, but she strikes an odd tone in the middle of the "Blitz at the Fitz" angle of the story. The Great Greene Heist would need to contain more truth for her character to work.

There is one truth contained in The Great Greene Heist, and that's its diversity. I don't want to downplay that. And yet it feels like this story does its characters a disservice, because it never succeeds in making its cast real. I found the writing stilted and the voice alternatively too slick or unconvincing, the characters flat because their motivations seemed insufficient.

The Great Greene Heist can either be The Westing Game or Frindle. It doesn't succeed because it tries to be both.
Profile Image for avery.
39 reviews
April 9, 2023
i was thinking abt this book as i ate my samosas today and it's so insanely good. i think i read this when i was seven or eight maybe and i have not read anything nearly as perfect as wonderful as inspiring since.

don't say it's unrealistic. middle schoolers started the salem witch trials.
Profile Image for Raina.
1,610 reviews128 followers
March 29, 2019
It took me WAAAAYYYY too long to get past the first page of this book!

No, seriously, this has been on my potential-middle-school-booktalk list ever since it came out, but I cracked it more than once and couldn't get past the first paragraph. There's a run-on sentence in there that felt awkward and like I'd be irritated by the writing all the way through.

Fortunately, I finally got past it, and discovered that the stylized writing here was something I could get used to. Don't get me wrong - it's not super stylized - just enough to put me off at first glance. But I am very happy I revisited this book.

I love twisty-turny stories, so have a weakness for capers in general. I love being surprised a clever plot.

This book does that, but in a YA book set in a middle school, with a notably, realistically diverse cast. It was particularly poignant to bring this one out to local middle schools in 2019, with all its talk of stealing elections and corrupt authority figures.

Great stuff. Give it a chance, even if the first page turns you off.
July 12, 2015
¡Adoré este libro! Creo que necesitaba una buena historia, sencilla, fresca y un poco infantil, pero no por eso menos original. Leer The Great Greene Heist es como combinar High School Musical -sin las canciones- y Ocean's Eleven. Por más loco que suene esa combinación, créanme, el libro es muuuuy bueno.

Nada se queda corto. Los personajes, que son chicos de 13 años, están a la altura de la historia que propone el autor. Todos son tremendamente inteligentes y audaces, sobre todo Jackson, que es el protagonista. Él es nieto de un gran maestro del engaño, y su padre y los hijos de este han heredado las habilidades para tramar planes, organizar estratagemas y engañar a otras personas. Aunque, claro, ellos no utilizan sus capacidades para hacer el mal. En fin, a mí esta historia familiar me fascinó.

Pero bueno, volvamos al libro. The Great Greene Heist cuenta la historia de cómo un grupo de chicos de 13 años se enfrenta a una elecciones para Presidente del Consejo Estudiantil que están arregladas. Los chicos buenos, es decir The Greene Gang, se alían para que su amiga Gaby logre ganar las elecciones limpiamente, pues su contrincante, Keith, las ha arreglado. Ahora, la cosa con todo esto es que Jackson no empieza a tramar planes por la bondad de su alma y su amor a la transparencia y la justicia electoral, no; él quiere ayudar a Gaby porque el año pasado hizo algo que no debía y se pelearon. Y bueno, desde el primer momento nos queda claro que este par se gustan, así que eso lo hace más interesante.

Cuando decía al principio que este es un Ocean's Eleven nivel High School no mentía, hay planea muy bien tramados, movimientos calculados milimétricamente, nerds y geeks que controlan las ayudas tecnológicas, chicas que crean distracciones... ¡hay de todo! ¡Incluso un Código de Conducta para los Planes y Engaños! Yo alucinaba, jajaja.

Si alguna vez logran encontrar este libro o lo pueden comprar en digital o pedir a Amazon, se los recomiento muchísimo :)
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,678 followers
May 11, 2015
A fun caper in the vein of THE WESTING GAME or OCEAN'S 11.

OCEANS is actually brought up several times, and Team Greene (aka Gang Greene) even name all the sections of their plan a la Danny Ocean and his gang. Hilarious, and so fun!

A lovely diverse cast try to rig the school elections, not for nefarious purposes, but because the PRINCIPAL is rigging it himself, in order to appease a wealthy parent who has been bribing him! What's a (kind of) reformed young con artist to do? The honest (and best) candidate is the girl he's crushing on, and she's the sister of his right hand man. Obviously he has to help, even though he's under strict orders from his parents, the principal, and even some of his more sensible friends NOT to get into trouble again. But is it really trouble, if you're in the right?

I loved the kids, and their families, and the way everyone interacted. Even though we're talking about a middle school age con artist with many famous "capers" under his belt, he felt real, and so did his family and friends. I really loved it. The one thing I did have a problem with is that the principal is well . . . so dishonest. And everyone seems to know it. As a parent of school-aged children, I found that rather alarming. Here's hoping that my kids' principal doesn't take bribes!
Profile Image for Watch Books.
90 reviews35 followers
September 26, 2018
I was really excited to read this book. Not that its anything wrong with it, but with the majority of black literature for children usually being about civil rights, or slavery, or serious life topics, I thought it would be cool that there was a book with a AA character just doing "normal" things. Sometimes, the serious topics can be a little heavy, and I was excited that this book could be a cool, fun, lighthearted, and the main character just so happens to be AA.

The book was good and the concept was very interesting. I think kids and adults alike will enjoy reading it. My only disappointment was that I felt like the story was bogged down with characters a little. Also, I was let down that the story line so heavily surrounded around the characters love interest (big no no for me, especially in kids books). Gaby was a goody goody in my opinion, and I didn't find anything to like about her. I also felt like Jackson could have been so much cooler, if most of his thoughts weren't taken up about her.

I personally walked away feeling let down, but that may have been because before reading it, I had painted the picture of the story a little differently in my mind . Overall, It was a good book, not sure if I would recommend (mainly because the love-interest-plot-turned-main-plot) - Zoe
Profile Image for Alondra.
19 reviews
September 30, 2022
boring book it was rushed a lot none of the characters had zero personality so
Profile Image for Arwen Zhang.
184 reviews1 follower
June 5, 2020
4.5- this book was refreshingly modern and not cringy. There was a huge amount of diversity of the characters, and the heist was actually pulled off somewhat realistically. My only problem is that they are literally all in eighth grade... still a great book .
Profile Image for Dawn Teresa.
387 reviews20 followers
August 1, 2014
Originally published on my blog, ReadLove .

Jackson Greene has swagger. Of mythic proportion. From the first glimpse of Varian Johnson’s protagonist in the halls of Maplewood Middle School, readers’ eyes will be peeled in anticipation. Though he’s “reformed”, you can sense Jackson’s new leaf hasn’t been turned over permanently. He’s on a slippery slope as far as scheming goes, and given the right motivation, he’ll be back in the game.

When his buddy Charlie de la Cruz comes to ask Jackson’s help with his twin sister Gaby’s student council election — Gaby’s running for School President — he turns him down. But the more Jackson learns, the deeper in he gets, until he is masterminding the “Great Greene Heist”.

There’s a lot to love about The Great Greene Heist. First, as the cover makes boldly clear, this a deeply diverse cast of characters led by an African-American boy. And the cover hasn’t been whitewashed! This in and of itself is no small feat in middle grade fiction. The kids who make up this book are lovably atypical. Their distinctiveness goes beyond their skin color. They are smart kids who dare to be different. Not only is Jackson a smooth operator, but he’s a baller who proves that even botany can be a cool pastime. Megan, the beautiful cheerleader, also happens to know how to program code and speak Klingon! And I have to say I had a soft spot for tech-geek wizard Hashemi who had me at “Kobayashi Maru”. That’s right! There are Star Trek references a-plenty! Varian Johnson tips his hat to Trek, and makes other popular culture references including Star Wars and Oceans Eleven.

Naysayers will claim this caper tale is far-fetched and they’ll be missing the point. This isn’t meant to be realistic fiction — it’s comedy! Saying The Great Greene Heist is implausible is like pointing out that no group of sane adults could be as dysfunctional and wacko as the cast of Seinfeld. Don’t rain on the parade. Sit back and remember what it was like to be a kid with a head full of dreams and schemes. And enjoy watching a grand plan play out!

Verdict: 4 of 5 hearts. A Charismatic Con Leads a Mad Middle School Caper. In Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist, Jackson Greene’s real life exploits are things of which middle school boys dream. Readers who like mystery, suspense, and humor, with a dash of comeuppance, will gobble this up. And when they’ve finished and seen the whole design come to fruition, they’ll want to read it again!

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Arthur A. Levine Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
769 reviews8 followers
May 25, 2014
I love cons and heist books and films. While some of what was going on, particularly in the technical details, seemed like it was probably a bit beyond middle school students, the motivations and actual carrying out of the plan seemed more or less realistic. I'm not entirely sure that an eighth grader would have the psychological savvy to anticipate everyone's reactions as well as Jackson does, but I'm willing to allow it. I loved that the president of the tech club spoke Klingon and was a cheerleader. (Though most of the middle school nerds I know are more Whovians that Trekkies.) For the most part the characters behaved like real people, with multiple motivations and realistically immature decisions. Kelsey and Keith seemed like stock villains in comparison. But I guess that in order to root for the con to work, we have to really hate the "victim".
Profile Image for Laura5.
500 reviews193 followers
May 26, 2014
This is a fabulously fun caper you won't want to miss.

This has the smart and sassy feel of movies like Oceans 11, The Italian Job, or the TV show Leverage, only in a novel for the middle grade/middle school set.

To pull off a great heist, you need a good crew - which often involves a lot of characters. This means a lot of set up at the start to establish characters and their relationships (as well as their talents). Varian Johnson does this well, but for those not used to this type of extensive set up, it can seem like a lot of characters right up front. Don't worry, push on - the pay off is worth it.
Profile Image for Hannah.
Author 6 books207 followers
June 16, 2014
Ultimately, I am more pleased with the existence of this book (heist for kids! diversity! black guy in charge!) than with its execution, though some of it turns out to be my own preference - turns out I like my heists on screen, not on paper. Also, it got better when I learned that it's a read-in-one-sitting type of book, not pick up, put down. But also, there was something about it that just kept me from being super into it. Again, really pleased with the cast of characters - they were well fleshed out, not just "diverse," and a lot of fun for the most part - but I wasn't totally invested in the story.
Profile Image for Mary.
856 reviews
June 29, 2020
I’m raising a cup of Earl Grey tea to this fantastic middle-school caper novel. My fellow Earl Grey connoisseur Jackson Greene is walking on thin ice at Maplewood Middle School, where the principal’s watching him like a hawk after a series of wildly successful cons. But when a spoiled, arrogant kid tries to buy the Student Council election from Jackson’s almost-girlfriend Gaby de la Cruz, Jackson assembles a crack team to save the election.

Inspired by “Ocean’s Eleven” and other caper films, this book is delightfully fun, funny, and engaging. I love the multicultural cast that Johnson creates, and how they are fully realized as individuals. It’s an escapist novel that lots of kids can see themselves in.

Highly recommended for middle-school kids.
Profile Image for Martha.
1,269 reviews11 followers
July 29, 2014
Jackson Greene has a reputation for getting into trouble, even though he's a very bright middle school student. In fact he is so bright he scams clever pranks that leave him unscathed, except in the eyes of Gaby de la Cruz, his best friend's sister whom he likes a lot. Due to viewing him kissing another girl, Gaby has crossed Jackson off her list of trusted friends. She is now running for student council president, and even though Jackson has agreed to no more pranks(he also has a questionable reputation with the school administration after his last prank), he still wants to help her win. With the assistance of a varied group of racially diverse students from different clicks, he plots an elaborate scheme to help Gaby with her votes, after learning that spoiled brat Keith Sinclair plans on cheating to insure becoming the next student council president. This madcap adventure has a complex plot, there are many schemes occurring simultaneously. Readers will be fascinated by Jackson's creative devices and plans to help Gaby win the election fairly. The romantic interaction between sparring Jackson and Gaby is clever and will ring true to middle school readers. The ending is a surprise making this roller coaster read a complicated delight.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
2,038 reviews53 followers
August 28, 2015
Recommended by the CCBC, I found this book fast paced, clever, and suspenseful. Jackson Greene comes from a line of heisters (is that a word?!) and he decides to pull a heist for the benefit of his friend Gaby who he really likes. Gaby is running for class president in the middle school but her competition, bad guy Keith, seems to have it already all wrapped with the help of unsavory Dr. Kelsey who is the principal. Jackson gathers a group of talent around him to assure Gaby's win. Just when you think you know what is actually happening things get switched up. As the reader you feel double and maybe even triple crossed yourself! Generally, you might not want to support lies and tricks and subterfuge. But for this Robin Hood like figure? Oh, yeah, you want him to win, win, win with that brilliant mind of his. Another book is set to follow. I look forward to it.
*Also, I must note that "The Greene Code of Conduct", although particularly worded for this heisting family, includes some philosophies that work for general living!
Profile Image for Wally.
472 reviews9 followers
March 13, 2015
Jackson Greene is a con artist who has given up his pranking ways because of how his last one not only fell flat, but made him lose Gaby, the girl he was interested in. When he learns Keith Sinclair is running for president of their middle school against Gaby, he knows he must help her, even if that means returning to his old ways.

Jackson comes off like a young hero from Ocean's Eleven, and he does try to do the right thing. The fact that he's African American (and it shows on the cover) grabbed the attention of some middle school boys I was telling this about.
Profile Image for Devann.
2,443 reviews139 followers
April 21, 2019
actual rating: 3.5

It took me a little while to get into this but it turned out to be a pretty cute middle grade heist book. I think part of what threw me off is that at the beginning it kind of just starts talking about the characters like you already know who they are and also mentioning previous heists like you should know what they were about. I double checked TWICE to make sure I hadn't missed a previous book because I just felt like I was missing something. After a few chapters everything falls into place a little more cleanly but I was definitely confused right at the beginning.

Overall it was a pretty fun read and I liked the racially diverse cast of characters, although the gender balance was VERY skewed. There were only two girls really in the entire book. I think fans of Jude Watson's Loot will probably enjoy this book, although I liked that series better [I think probably just because I like a little supernatural side with my crime books]. I don't think I will read the second one just because my library doesn't have a copy and I don't want to actually buy it, but I would still recommend this book for young readers.
Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,758 reviews125 followers
January 24, 2015
Whether I want to admit it or not, there is a certain amount of wish fulfillment going on when I watch movies or read fantasy, spy, or science fiction books. I'll never be a butt-kicking warrior but that doesn't mean it isn't fun pretending I am for a couple of hours. This book will satisfy most middle schooler's alter ego of pretending to buck authority and outsmart the powers-that-be. It's fun. It's heady. Plop in some humor and action and ya gotta whole lotta fun. Turn over a few stereotypes and add some subtle racism while you are at it and ya gotta whole lot to talk about.

Jackson is a middle schooler who comes from a family of cons. His dad is a lawyer now and is on to Jackson every time he starts a scheme. Grandpa taught his grandsons the art of duping others. While, Samuel, Jackson's brother is off to college, Jackson is just coming out of a four month grounding due to some con job he pulled at school the year before. A job that went all wrong. He lost Gaby, his best friend and girlfriend, and has to meet with Principal Kelsey once a week for behavior reports. He's not your typical con man. He wears a red tie to school and runs the Botany club. He's sworn off con jobs and has supposedly gone clean. When his ex-girlfriend runs for Student Council president and his arch enemy, Keith Sinclair, gets on the ballot after the deadline, Jackson knows something is up and comes out of stealth mode.

An elaborate heist ensues that is believable enough to keep me flipping the pages waiting for the twist at the end. In an unpredictable climax, Jackson is saved in an unlikely way and the answer to the previous con job gone awry is pretty funny. I kept thinking I was reading a sequel because of the way the author unfolds the plot. He jumps into the action and characters so that it isn't clear what happened during the fallout between Jackson and Gaby. Bits and pieces are tossed to the reader until the very end when it comes together. While I liked how this added tension throughout the story, I felt confused at the start by the references to characters involved in it.

Strong female and male characters make for a multicultural mix that is global. Jackson is African American, while Gaby is Latino. Both are excellent basketball players and care about school. Gaby is passionate about the environment and Jackson likes horticulture. Their classmate Carmen is odd but that doesn't mean Gaby doesn't see her strengths. Gaby is willing to work with her and Carmen becomes invaluable to the campaign with her great manipulation of crowds through different media. Hashemi and Victor are Asians that are perhaps more stereotyped but I was thrilled to see two Asian minor characters so I don't give a hoot. Hashemi is the tech wizard on the team that turns into a drooling mess around classmate, Megan, until they start talking Klingon together. Honest. Didn't see that coming. Megan is a cheerleader, Caucasian and president of the Tech club. I get a bit tired of the stereotypical mean, narcissistic cheerleader, so it was great seeing Megan break the mold. She adds great humor by responding to stressful situations by speaking Klingon. Hashemi starts to interpret at one point. The first time she calls Jackson a not-so-nice name in Klingon, he wisecracks, "Didn't know the school offered that language elective." Gaby's brother is Jackson's best friend and he loves to make up names for everything giving it pizazz. So does Bradley, another member of the heist team. My favorite is when he says, "Three cheers for Gang Greene."

The author mentions the movies, "Ocean's 11" and Star Trek, as influencing him. For sure he mirrors the diverse cast in those movies with his characters. He works in his admiration through his characters, especially Star Trek. The pop culture references added to the humor for me and it was subtle enough to not take away from the plot. The racism of others is subtle too and I liked how the author handled that as well. Jackson goes into the administrative office and the secretary asks if he is there for his weekly meeting or is he in trouble again because "boys like you" do that. "Jackson looked at his skinny brown hands. He never quite knew what Ms. Appleton meant by 'boys like you.' He hoped she meant something like 'boys named Jackson' or 'boys who are tall,' but he suspected her generalizations implied something else."

While Principal Kelsey is more of a one dimensional villain, Keith has more depth. Keith begins like a buffoon willing to rely on the Dr. Kelsey, but becomes increasingly paranoid, sneaky, and tactical as the story goes on. His motivations are understandable, but misplaced as he wants to cheat the system rather than be honest. Principal Kelsey shows that he has a different agenda toward the end that makes for an interesting plot turn. He is confident, corrupt, and powerful becoming more and more greedy as time passes. Jackson, Keith, and Dr. Kelsey are all trying to outsmart each other and their power play moves become more desperate and unpredictable by the end. Of course, in a good heist they've played into the hands of the hero if the reader is familiar with this type of trope. But all three of the men are somewhat dorks in the end and Gaby gets the last laugh. She says that boys are as "dense as a box of rocks." A fun book. Go Team Gangrene!
Profile Image for Tena Edlin.
803 reviews
December 31, 2019
This was a fun read with some characters I would have liked to have as friends in middle school... witty, funny, loyal. Some of their romantic interactions seemed a little out of place and more mature... maybe I’m just getting old and can’t remember... ? But the heist and the plans for it were fun and exciting. I enjoyed the book!
Profile Image for Caleb S.
107 reviews44 followers
October 24, 2017
I've read this book multiple times, and it's always been so awesome!
Profile Image for Phillip Han.
65 reviews30 followers
February 6, 2019
Amazing book. The details are amazing and the suspense was terrific. Read it.
Profile Image for Kelechi.
13 reviews
March 14, 2019
This book is amazing!!!! Action and kids outsmarting adults like a pro.
Profile Image for Matt Godfrey.
27 reviews2 followers
July 9, 2018
I loved it! The short chapters made the book move so fast!
Profile Image for Liz Friend.
970 reviews89 followers
January 21, 2015
The story: Jackson Greene is a (supposedly) reformed con man--busted for the Mid-Day PDA, and still on the outs with former crush Gaby De La Cruz because of it. But when he hears that rich-kid Keith Sinclair is planning to bribe the principal into letting him steal the Student Council election from Gaby, Jackson knows he has to step in. Just one last con, and it's all for the greater good. Honest.

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG; violence G; Sexual content G; nudity G; substance abuse PG; magic & the occult G; substance abuse PG; adult themes G; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments: I liked this one a lot! And Johnson certainly made a point of including someone from every demographic sub-group. Attaboy.

Library Media Connection review:
This book focuses on a middle school election for student council president. Keith Sinclair is running for office to beef up his application to a prestigious private high school. Sinclair's father offers a generous donation to the school's corrupt principal, in exchange for assuring that Keith will win the election. Gaby de la Cruz genuinely wants to serve her classmates. Gaby's ex-boyfriend, Jackson Greene, is on probation for all the shenanigans he has orchestrated, but he proposes one last caper to defeat Keith. With the help of loyal friends, Jackson sets the stage not only for Gaby's victory, but for her forgiveness of his previous romantic betrayal. Johnson weaves an entertaining tale of loyalty, perseverance, and the predictable weaknesses of adults. Also notable is the ethnic diversity of characters, all too often lacking in children's literature. Bernie Morrissey, Middle School Librarian, The Harker School, San Jose, California.

School Library Journal (March 1, 2014)
Gr 5-8-After his last heist went bad and he lost Gaby, the girl he liked, Jackson Greene swore off breaking the rules. But when his old nemesis, Keith Sinclair, plans to steal the school election from Gaby and cut the budget for every afterschool activity except the Gamer Club, Jackson decides to use his con-man skills yet again. Jackson does a little digging and discovers that Keith plans on rigging the election by bribing the principal with a large donation from his father. Can Jackson save the day by stealing the election back for his friend or will his nemesis beat him at his own game?
Profile Image for Jayce Senter.
265 reviews12 followers
November 17, 2014
Originally posted here at In the Senter of it All

A middle school boy tries to buy the election for student council president. With the feel of a heist movie, Jackson Greene assembles a team of “experts” to steal the election from a fellow student who has paid off the principal to ensure a win. Such a clever and witty story. I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Genre: adventure
AR level: 4.6
Grade appropriate: 4th and up

Overall: 5/5-- With the characters constantly referring to stunts pulled in the past, I kept double checking to make sure this wasn’t a sequel. It’s not, but I still felt like I was missing something because I didn’t know about the previous events they referred to.

Creativity: 5/5-- I love the idea of a heist book that doesn’t actually have to do with stealing a physical thing. I’m a huge fan of Loot and The Gallagher Girls series, this had a different feel because it was much more realistic.

Characters: 5/5-- I loved having a character to root for (Jackson) and characters to hate (Keith and Mr. Kelsey.) All were well developed enough to inspire strong feelings.

Engrossing: 5/5-- It’s a book you want to keep coming back to.

Writing: 5/5-- I will say some of the Star Trek references were lost on me although it didn’t really detract from the story as much as the references to previous shenanigans did. Even after I was 100% sure that this was not a sequel I just kept thinking, “Surely there’s another book I missed!”

Appeal to kids: 5/5-- They’ll love it!

Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5

Language: none

Sexuality: mild-- the main character kisses a girl to make a fellow student mad. (nothing graphic, just a brush of lips) There is talk of dating and going to formals together but all very innocent and clean.

Violence: none

Drugs/Alcohol: none
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