Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Class Action by Steven B. Frank

Math problems, dioramas, the despised California Missions project, and middle of the night anxiety over a forgotten bibliography leave sixth-grader Sam Warren tired, and with no time to just be a kid, to able able to play with friends Jaesang, Catalina, and Alistair, and to play more jazz piano, his real love. So when his teacher, Mr. Powell, begins handing out review packets for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test, Sam decides to take a stand and refuses to do any more homework.

Sam's protest earns him a 3 day suspension. On his first day, he meets Mr. Kalman, an elderly retired curmudgeony lawyer, who, annoyed that Sam tried to be nice and rescue his newspaper from some gutter sledge, nevertheless informs Sam that without a hearing his suspension is illegal, and to look up Goss v. Lopez to learn why.

After explaining Goss v. Lopez to him, Sam finds a surprising ally in older sister Sadie, and they decide to take action against the school board. Though they ask, Mr. Kalman refuses and refuses and refuses, but eventually he agrees to represent Sam and sue the Board of Education.

Meeting in Mr. Kalman's house, Sadie gets her friend Sean to help, Sam brings along Jaesang, Catalina, and Alistair and they all bring their own particular talents and energy to the project. Though only in high school, Sadie, who is captain of the debate team, is a real help. She has some familiarity with the law and has already participated in many mock trials. Sean is the tech genius of the group, and Sam and his friends are the participants in the class action lawsuit.

Of course, their lawsuit cost money, even if Mr. Kalman is working Pro Bono and especially as they work their way up through the court system, going from a simple hearing to being heard by the Supreme Court. So, what better way to raise the money they need than to make homework work for them. They begin by collecting as many old, discarded dreaded California Missions projects as they can find and selling them to harried students and their more-than-willing-to-pay parents.

What's the decision of the Supreme Court on the case of Warren v. Board of Education? Does Sam et al prevail? Well, there's a nice twist at this point in the novel that would really amount to a major spoiler, and it has nothing to do with the court's decision. All I can say is read it and...

I have to admit I loved this novel. As preposterous as some of the action was, it was just so much fun to read, but not just fun. It was also a nice course in civics and how the law works. Best of all, nothing was dumbed down for the reader.

Sam, our first person narrator, is a believable, buoyant, persistent fleshed out character. Sadie was also well developed, and somewhat more serious than Sam. Sean, Jaesang, Catalina, and Alistair are not quite so full-bodied, but that does diminish their roles. Alistair in particular was a favorite of mine. Here was a kid who loved food and cooking, and who aspired to participate in Master Chef Junior, a reality show I actually got hooked on this past spring. Just reading his room service order in the Watergate Hotel was a pleasure.

Of course, the irony of the novel is the Sam and his friends are working harder than they would have on any school assignment, receiving an excellent education in jurisprudence, and the right to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" as guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution. The difference is that this is something that is really relevant to their lives, the California Missions project, not so much.

Class Action is a fun, exciting, sometimes nail-biting novel that most kids will thoroughly enjoy - and maybe some teachers will, too, especially when they see the back matter. This consists of a Glossary of Legal Terms and an Appendix of Supreme Court Cases Mentioned in Class Action.

One other thing made Class Action of real interest to me was a report on my local news about two boys who had petitioned their school district in Stony Point, NY to eliminate homework. They prevailed.

You can read about them HERE and HEREI wonder if they've read Class Action.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


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