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The Usual Suspects

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  236 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He’s in special ed, separated from the “normal” kids at school who don’t have any “issues.” That’s enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. (Although his disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too.)

When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and h
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 21st 2019 by HarperCollins
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Have you ever felt deep down bone mad at the universe because it withheld information from you? Information that is, by rights, yours to have? Because at this moment I’m in that very situation. I have here, in my hands, a book. I have read this book and found it marvelous. So I am in this funny state where I’m overwhelmed with love for this wonderful book on the one hand, and engulfed in a red hot fury that more people don’t know about it on the other. Some people discover a great book and they ...more
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
We often think of special Ed of as the place where misbehaved children go. You never think about these kids unless it’s telling a passing joke about them. But you’d be wrong.
The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus opens the line of vision to the other side. And, it was so well done.

A cast of misfits, make up for a must read middle-grade novel that reads like the author has done this a million times over. 

Thelonius and Nehemiah are in their school’s special ed group/class, though they don’t quite
Ms. Yingling
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Thelonius is a bright kid, but his behavior has sent him to a special education unit where the few students there are Emotionally Disturbed. The teacher is old and tired, and most of the work is on the computer. Thelonius' mother is very supportive and not happy with his shenanigans, and is having him tested very soon. His friend Nehemiah is also in the class; his family is less supportive, and he tends to have episodes where he runs around the classroom screaming. Thelo
the lady e
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss.

Cannot wait to buy this for my library, and I think it is a must buy for urban classrooms and libraries in middle school settings. This is a noir tale told by the boy who is always getting in trouble - so much, in fact, he spends almost his entire day in his pull-out special education classroom. When someone brings a gun to school and Thelonius and his friends in their class are blamed, he decides to investigate on his own and find the true culprit. The story is
Robert Kent
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a middle grade crime thriller that is always engaging and never pedantic, beginning with the crime itself. This is isn't the case of the missing school trophy or a cookie caper. Broaddus is writing about some real stuff: a gun has been found in a park near school where our heroes hang out with other kids and everyone's a suspect... except that mostly the teachers suspect Thelonius Mitchell and his friends because they're, wait for it, the usual suspects. To clear their name, Theloni ...more
Michelle Glatt
This book us real and honest and sometimes raw and will open eyes. We don't often get a character like Thelonius, who is underestimated by everyone, especially himself. And lets not forget that there's a mystery here--one that Thelonius will not give up on trying to solve. Thought-provoking.
This middle grade feels like New Kid and every middle grade by Jason Reynolds with the rawness and sweetness that balance out in the message. Thelonius is the perfect prankster because it's the best but it's obnoxious and he ends up in the principal's office often.

It's not until a gun is found near school property that Thelonius and his pals realize that they're going to be targeted unless they figure out who it was. This sets off the fact-finding expedition where Thelonius has to connect with
Kendall Ball
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book! With a very realistic representation of two EBD boys in a self-contained Special Ed classroom, this book help to fill a major gap in kid lit. We need books the “bad kids” can relate to just like any other kid. I already have a few in mind that I’d like to hand this book to. My only hesitation with this book is that it involves a gun being brought to school. That worries me, but is a real thing that happens! And ultimately the protagonist grows from his small involvement ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ownvoices
Actually made me pretty uncomfortable as an adult, but it's a good thing to be reminded of the resilience, smarts and heart of middle schoolers who are facing such difficult pressures from their parents, communities, teachers, peers and their own physical and emotional needs. An actual 11 year old I lent it to for several chapters also pronounced it "pretty good"
Thomas Bell
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
I didn't know at first whether I liked the book or not. I have a hard time sympathizing with troublemakers. But by the end of the book I loved Thelonius and Nehemia. In general, the author did an excellent job giving his characters personality, even the less significant ones.

I do wish it ended differently. But oh, well.
Becky Spratford
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three words that describe this book: conversational tone, character centered, thought provoking

One of my reading resolutions this year was to read more Middle Grade novels. I sought this one out specifically because I have read an enjoyed Broaddus' adult novels, but those were speculative. Broaddus is a teacher and this book is set in middle school.

What I enjoyed about this novel was that it looked at the issue of how the kids in special education are treated but through their eyes and with a to
While this book is working in the same vein as Jason Reynolds’ Ghost, The Usual Suspects isn’t quite as effectively realized. Both books show a supportive mother-son relationship shining through a less-supportive environment. Both books tackle questions of morality and doing the right thing. Both books attempt to explore the effects of childhood trauma from the viewpoint of a middle schooler. Broaddus’ book is certainly an impressive debut middle grade novel, funny and engrossing and ambitious i ...more
Owen Curtsinger
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thelonius Caldwell is very much like many of the boys I taught in my ten years as a middle school teacher: bright, mischievous, and labeled as "special ed." Despite his label he is very keen in his perceptions of people and aware of the reality that he is being 'warehoused' (i.e., placed in a self contained classroom with similar students and given sleep-inducing lessons until he either drops out or is removed via expulsion). Because the school and his teachers have low expectations of him, Thel ...more
May 03, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
3.5 stars.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a great look at how different upbringings, home lives perceptions, and so much more can "label" a kid. It also shows how kids that people don't know how to work with get grouped together and not for the best if no one knows how to work with them or has the patience.

This story greatly shows how actions can build up to one big event. When a gun is found near a school it's widely assumed someone from the special education classroom brought it (some kids i
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The characters in this book give you a perspective of students you don't usually read about in books, the students who a labeled "trouble-makers" or "those kids." In their school, they are part of a self-contained classroom for students who have behavior difficulties (like the Oasis program we have in our school.) I'm having trouble lately with all of the school's emphasis on social-emotional needs of the kids and how because this hasn't been strong in their lives we can't expect them to underst ...more
Apr 06, 2020 added it
I didn't enjoy this book and had to force myself to finish it, even though the writing is fantastic. But this book wasn't written for me, and it deals with issues I have never had to deal with or experience. The middle schoolers this book was written for will feel very differently than I did because they are dealing with these issues every day of their young lives. It is not for every middle schooler, but the ones who come from poverty or difficult homes and who struggle with behavioral problems ...more
It can be difficult for me to review books that I read for my classroom - I’m always reading them with the eye of “Will this work in my library or book clubs?” So my issues tend to be specific to that.

There were things about this book I really liked - specifically, the fact that it featured characters like Nehemiah, who I see in school often but not in books. The special ed room is realistic and I was really excited about potentially using this book with some students who are “the usual suspect
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
An annoying thing about being an educator and reading books for youth, often set in schools, is how the stereotype of adults is CONSTANTLY perpetuated in lit for young people; they’re either clueless or trying to be a savior—always one-dimensional. And maybe that’s okay, because adults aren’t the center or a middle schooler’s world, and authors want to keep the grown-ups in the background. But to me, that also does a disservice because young people need to learn and remember that adults AREN’T o ...more
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Earlier this year I read Pat Conroy’s The Water Is Wide. A fascinating look at his experience as an educator trying to educate kids who had not only been forgotten, but were systematically neglected. What I wanted more of from that story was the student’s perspective. I got it in this book. I don’t think there are any other middle grade novels like this one to date.

Five stars for a likable, real main character and some awesome one-liners. “That girl couldn’t find a maternal bone in a cemetery of
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
“We just come at the world different because it comes at us different.”

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5. Finally, a nice day to read outside! This book was a nice surprise - I don’t think the cover does it justice. Seventh-grader Theolonius has impulse control issues that have landed him in the special education room at his school. His theory is that they don’t know what to do with him and his classmates, so they just shoved them together in their own room. But when the gang is accused of bringing a gun to the park
Oct 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Maurice Broaddus's middle grade debut is in the style of a hardboiled detective novel with a twist. I appreciate he is choosing to focus on the special ed kids and the students who always get blamed when something goes wrong, but in my experience, no one is placed in sped for being a classroom disruption. There is a lot of testing, and some students who could benefit from services don't qualify. I don't think kids will realize this, so it will just bug education professionals. He does accurately ...more
Jenny Ashby
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I think I've worked with too many students who stir up trouble just like Thelonius to fully empathize with how he is suspected of causing trouble. I admire his personal growth throughout the book and I agree that putting all the "bad" kids into a room together is not the best strategy to improve their behavior, but I was particularly frustrated when he looking for the opportunity to get people wound up in music class. As for the ending, I'm very worried about the repercussions from the people he ...more
Sep 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was a lot heavier than I was expecting. I thought it would be another fluffy middle grade book where kids solve a mystery that is important to them but in reality doesn't have much impact. That is not this book! The problems Thelonius and Nehemiah are facing a big and have real danger and impact. It made the mom in me ache with the need to give both these boys a hug and a home-cooked meal. As uncomfortable as this was to me as an adult, I think Maurice Broaddus makes a good point with ...more
Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent & unique book by a local Indy author.

The book is about Thelonius, a good kid with a penchant for trouble. He is in the special ed class because he often has impulse control issues when it comes to stirring up his classmates. He & his fellow students in the special ed classroom are the first to be suspected of being involved when a gun is found in a park near the school. Thelonius feels the need to protect and proclaim the innocence of his friends, so he begins to track dow
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this book and while it was an excellent read, I felt mildly disappointed in the "who-dun-it" portion of the book. With that being said, I think it is an excellent read on the power of friends/family, what is wrong (and right) with the current educational system, and choosing to "not let anyone strip you of your dignity". Would recommend to any and all middle schoolers.

P.S.: My favorite line in this novel is "She wears misery for makeup and chugs bitterness for vitamins"
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a fun read! You can tell that the author has a connection with kids and cares about them. I enjoyed the way the main character grew throughout the book. I also enjoyed the exploration of motives and how sometimes people surprise you (for example, the "usual suspects").

I think it's a little too mature (read: scary. There is talk about schoolyard bullying, etc) for my 7-year-old, but I think it's good for slightly older kids (the book recommends 8-12). I think it'd be enjoyable for most m
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thelonious is very bright, but likes to push people's buttons, landing him in Special Ed. I liked the complexity of all the characters (like the teacher's pet who runs a mobster-like candy scam with an enforcer under the noses of the teachers), and the setting in a rough urban school. I also liked that he had a supportive teacher and mother, even though he is very suspicious of the entire system. I also liked that he modified his view of himself: not just a spider that caused chaos remotely, but ...more
I learned about this book after hearing the author on the podcast Writing Excuses. So when I saw it at my local library I picked it up. I quite enjoyed the story.

This is a book about the kids that are always in trouble, the ones who get blamed for every thing because they are usually the ones who did it. Except this time, someone brought a gun near the school and it wasn't any of the usual trouble makers. To keep from being blamed and getting major consequences, they decide to investigate on the
Nov 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned, children-s
children's middlegrade fiction (quick-witted, Black 7th grader who has been placed in "special needs" class becomes an automatic suspect when a gun is found near his school)
I loved Thelonius' character and I think kids would relate to and appreciate his voice. I lost interest in it because I was too distracted and may try to come back to this book at another time. The beginning seemed very promising.
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