Sixth-grader Maggie Gallagher is a hacker, but not with computers. She takes after her late father, who went to MIT, where he learned to “hack”—to pull wildly elaborate practical jokes. Stuck in the stagnant small town of Odawahaka, Maggie imagines conversations with him while living and breathing by his notebook, The Hacker’s Bible. She adores explosions, but she abides by her father’s rules to be safe and not destroy other people’s property.
Not surprisingly, Maggie is Nothing but Trouble, especially after she teams up with a new girl in town named Lena. Their dilapidated school is about to be demolished, so the pair concoct a scheme to have a mascot mouse be elected class president, in honor of the fabled mice that live within the school’s walls.
This is indeed the story of a mouse that roared, as what begins as a prank turns into a movement, empowering not only Maggie and Lena but all of their classmates to stand up against the dictatorial new principal, Mr. Shute. The girls find a surprising ally in their homeroom teacher, Mrs. Dorn-busch, the school’s oldest and most feared teacher, also known as the Dungeon Dragon.
While comical, the novel extols some high concepts. Lena is a fan of the Dadaist art movement (mentioned and explained throughout), and there’s an entertaining physics-based activity section at the book’s end related to hacking. Both at school and at home, Maggie learns to delve deeper into relationships, especially with her wheelchair-bound grandfather and still-grieving mother, who struggles with alcohol. Author Jacqueline Davies (The Lemonade War series) also leaves readers with a teaser in this first book of a new series, as Lena promises to explain some of her family’s “oddities” in the near future.
Filled with heart, humor and plenty of practical jokes, Nothing but Trouble portrays an improbable but poignant middle school world. Sometimes getting in trouble is worth it, Lena and Maggie learn, and middle school readers will enjoy their rollicking journey.