This book did a great job getting you involved in the mystery from the start. The author has a great writing style drawing you into the first person plot. The story is told from the perspective of Franny, who is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary young sister named Zoe. Zoe is recruited to attend Allbright Academy, a boarding school for rising stars. Being loyal to a fault, she refuses to go unless her older sister and twin brother are also invited to attend.
Once there, Franny and some newfound friends uncover a sinister plot. The students are changing into "Perfect robot-people"
Why? How? For What Reason? The truth is startling, scary, and exciting, and the kids have their hands full collecting evidence to bring the instigators to justice.
The Mysterious Case of Allbright Academy is technically a realistic fiction. The children recruited to the Academy are very talented, but in realistic ways. One is a scientist, another a poet, and Zoe has an extremely magnetic personality. The method of behavior modification used to change them into "perfect robot people" is probably not actually avialible yet, but it is not unreasonable to think it will be in the not-to-distant future. The actions taken by the students to rectify the situation are brave and require wit and talent - but entirely believable. Even the perspective of the narrator is completely realistic. This realism draws you in from the start and keeps you interest throughout.
There are many similarities between these two books. Both have talented children who are taken to a special boarding school. There they are tangled up in secret plots involving food laced with behavior modifying compounds. They must plan daring rebellions against the adults in charge (in one case escape, the other exposure and arrest). Then at the end the school is rebuilt to actually serve the noble, impressive purposes they said they were serving.
Piper can fly. When the world finds out about it, her parents are immediately contacted by a special "boarding school" offering to help her and claiming to be a perfect fit for her unique situation. When Piper arrives, she finds a place full of interesting, unique things and people - all with special talents. But the talents are disappearing. Again the students must ask - Why? How? To what end?
The truth is horrifying, but the children are trapped with no escape in the middle of nowhere. How will they gain their freedom? They must band together, with two very unlikely leaders, and use all their considerable talents. Even flying.
The ending is fun a climatic, with plenty of openings for a sequel - keep your fingers crossed!
I would recommend both of these books to any confident reader. There are some challenging concepts in each book - child manipulation, behavior modification, adults abusing their power, etc. They are not written to emphasize these points, most children won't notice this through the plot unless it is pointed out to them. They are exciting with plenty of action and intrigue.
Read both books and compare. Discuss how books with similar plots can turn out to be totally different books, even different genres, when the details are changed. Explore the differences between realistic fiction and fantasy / science fiction. Discuss how a realistic fiction book can have science and even futuristic things in it, and a science fiction book can seem quite realistic.
The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy is on the 2011 Sequoyah Masterlist. If you live in Oklahoma you can count this toward one of the three books you must read from the list and then vote on your favorite. Anyone could use this as an opening into book awards. How are book awards decided? What types of awards are there? Does your state have an award chosen by children? Have the students read any books with awards? Did they like the book?
These books could spark interesting discussions on behavior modification, abuse of power, and manipulation, advances in science, as well as the thought that advancement can be good and bad at the same time.