Happyville High: Geek Tragedy by Tom McLaughlin

The Blurb On The Back:

Happyville High might seem like the perfect school, but anyone looking closely can see there’s something really strange going on.

No-one else seems to be worried that the captain of the American football team has grown a super long spaghetti arm.

Because he’s got an incredible throw now … It is weird though.

Maybe we should investigate?

When one NERDY GENIUS, a CRACK-POT INVENTOR, and a COMPUTER GEEK band together, there’s no mystery that they can’t solve.  They might be took uncool for school, but they’re the only kids with the brains to get to the bottom of what’s happening at Happyville High.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

12-year-old Tyler Fitz and her father (a science professor) has just moved to the town of Happyville, a strange town in the middle of nowhere that’s apparently the happiest town in America and which Tyler hates immediately given that she never wanted to move.

Having been home-schooled for most of her life, her dad insists that she give school another go, which is how she finds herself at Happyville High which encourages students to try and be as popular as they can on the basis that it makes students happier.  Tyler immediately knows that she won’t fit in – she’s a nerdy genius with a great memory for facts and a thirst for knowledge but Happyville High is filled with shallow, selfie-obsessed social media junkies led by Courtney (leader of the popular girls) and Blake (the football team’s star quarterback).

Fortunately she meets Ashley (an inventor who’s kinda intense) and Dylan (a computer geek with a strange home life) and strikes up a friendship.  But the longer Tyler lives in Happyville, the weirder she finds it – like the way her dad is suddenly obsessed with growing tomatoes or the way everyone is school is focused on taking perfect selfies.  And then in the middle of a football game, Blake’s arm suddenly becomes incredibly long and no one appears to think it odd – in fact, it’s not long before other students are growing their own super-long arms too!

Tyler, Ashley and Dylan have to find out what’s going on and also how to stop it – before any other limbs start to go freaky.

Tom McLaughlin’s self-illustrated humorous novel for children aged 9+ (the first in a series) is an entertaining affair that features three 12-year-old girls who are into science and learning (which is great) although I was disappointed that the three do fall into typical misfit stereotypes and would have liked for them to have some interest in other subjects such as sports just to make it easier for readers to relate to them.

The thing I really enjoyed about this book is that it’s about three girls who are into science and technology and learning, which I think is great.  I also liked the fact that they’re comfortable in their own skins and don’t feel the need to conform with what every other student (and even their teachers) wants them to be, even though they dislike being bullied and try to stay out of everyone’s way.  However I did find it a little disappointing that the girls are shown as having no interests outside science and while the scenes where they’re forced to play sport are amusing, it would have been nice to have them like something more mainstream just to keep them relatable as otherwise it reinforces the idea of science and technology as being a niche area that’s separate to what everyone else likes.

Tyler is an interesting main character – funny as much as she is smart and although she’s stuck with a stereotypical dead mum background, I enjoyed the relationship between her and her scientist father (I would have enjoyed seeing them do more science-related stuff together but this is something that might get picked up later on in the series). Ashley and Dylan are more broadly sketched but there’s plenty of room for them to grow and I enjoyed the little background details that McLaughlin drops in (especially Dylan’s home life). Courtney and Blane are thin stereotypes (prom queen and sports job) but that’s okay as they don’t need any more depth for this story to work.

The illustrations are well done and really add to the humour in the book (which is silly and good natured).  McLaughlin also does a good job of sketching in the general weirdness in Happyville, which sets up a lot of potential for later books and I will definitely be checking out the next book.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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