The Smartest Kid in the Universe

Random. (Smartest Kid in the Universe: Bk. 1). Nov. 2020. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525647782.
Gr 3-6–Jake McQuade, a seventh grader at Riverview Middle School, doesn’t consider himself to be lazy, just “exertion challenged.” Jake’s best friend is Kojo Shelton, a science geek who enjoys quoting old detective shows like Kojak. Jake has a crush on Grace, a smart girl whose family immigrated from Cuba. Jake’s sister, Emma, is in fourth grade and attends a Spanish immersion school, leaving Jake dismayed that he can neither help Emma with her homework nor converse with Grace in Spanish. Jake and Emma’s mom is the events coordinator at a hotel downtown, and when Jake goes there and eats a bowl of jelly beans, he unknowingly ingests absent-minded researcher Haazim Farooqi’s career-long scientific experiment. Having eaten all of Farooqui’s research into Ingestible Knowledge (IK), Jake instantly becomes the titular smartest kid in the universe. At first, no one knows why Jake suddenly spouts random knowledge about everything—from the history of Cheerios to the Philippines and its 7,641 islands—but he still doesn’t understand Spanish. Farooqi dubs Jake “Subject One” and wants to study his newfound intelligence, but both are afraid to reveal what has happened as they aren’t sure if/when/how it may evaporate. Meanwhile, Principal Malvolio wants Riverview Middle School closed down so she can sell the property to her uncle Heath the real-estate tycoon. When Riverview’s dream team of Grace, Kojo, and Jake team up for the Quiz Bowl, their trifecta is challenged by Malvolio and Heath Huxley, whose nefarious plans involve digging up long buried treasure underneath the school, which technically belongs to Grace’s ancestors. For the smart and heroic trio, it becomes a race against time to try to save the school, win the Quiz Bowl, find the buried treasure, and unearth the sinister motives of the evil duo.
VERDICT Grabenstein delivers once again to his target middle-grade audience with a book that will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. There’s something for everyone, from adventure to angst as well as puzzles and trivia. This introduction to a new series will leave readers ready for the next installment.

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