The Usual Suspects

288p. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062796318.
Gr 6–8—Middle-school pranksters Thelonius Mitchell and his best friend Nehemiah have been labeled "emotionally delinquent" and put in Mr. Blackmon's special education classroom, where they feel they're always taking the heat for things that aren't their fault (in fairness, they take the heat for some that are, too). When a handgun is discovered on the grounds of a nearby playground, the students in the special education class are the first ones hauled in for the principal's line of questioning. As Nehemiah and Thelonius work together to clear their names, they uncover information that has the power to exonerate them—but it also implicates a classmate who may not deserve to take the fall. Broaddus's experience as a teacher is front and center here; Thelonius's world and his self-awareness as he interacts with the adults around him (particularly Mr. Blackmon) provide insight into contemporary special education, and the thought processes of neuroatypical students and students with learning disabilities. Though the large cast of characters and uneven pacing makes narrowing down the culprit of the gun incident difficult, fans of whodunits with a social conscience will find lots to like here.
VERDICT Broaddus's first foray into middle grade fiction is an overall success that provides a rare and much-needed glimpse into the world of exceptional learners.

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