Review of Control Freaks

Control Freaks Control Freaks
by J. E. Thomas
Intermediate, Middle School    Levine Querido    272 pp.
5/23    9781646143054    $18.99

Take a school full of competitive “control freaks,” each with ambitious personal goals, put them into an all-middle-school group STEAMS (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, sports) competition, and you will rock their universe. Twelve-year-old Frederick Douglass “Doug” Zezzmer, a Black student at Benjamin Banneker College Prep in Denver, is trepidatious. “There’s no way to stand out if I’m one of a dozen kids on a team,” he says. This will interfere with his “fifty-seven-step strategy to become the World’s Greatest Inventor” and Operation DazzleYee, intended to impress his principal, Dr. Yee, enough to nominate him for Rocky Mountain GadgetCon. Furthermore, he’s placed on the worst team possible. They’re the “Island of Misfit Toys of STEAMS teams.” Dr. Yee comes up with wild tests, events, contests, and challenges for the students, related through the author’s clever use of alternating voices that offer insights into the minds and lives of characters. As miserable as Doug is at the beginning, he eventually gets into the spirit of the competition and sees his teammates, now friends, in a new light. By the end of the competition, he says, “I’m not sure how Dr. Yee did it, but he got all of us celebrating for each other.” Thomas’s debut novel is a refreshing take on middle-school life—smart kids who know they are going places but learn to take care of one another along the way.

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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