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“We only see one side of [people] and then try to put them in a box . . . Sometimes, it’s easier to just stay there than climb out,” Tyson Flamand. – The Undercover Book List
The Undercover Book List
by Colleen Nelson
Jane McDonald is a self-professed book nerd. When her best friend, Sienna, a fellow reader, moves away, she plans an “Undercover Book Club” to ease Jane’s loneliness. The idea is to leave an anonymous note in a designated library book and strike up a friendship with whoever finds it. Tyson Flamand is a video game-loving jokester whose antics tend to land him in the principal’s office. By accident, he sees Jane slipping her note into the library book, and he leaves an anonymous response. As Jane and Tyson become closer though the Book Club, they both discover their own resilience and ability to overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles.
Jane is an avid reader and a driven student, consistently impressing her teachers and other adults in her life. Her father is deployed in the Middle East on a military assignment, so her grandparents spend a lot of time supporting Jane’s mom with childcare. Her best friend, Sienna, recently moved away and Jane has to learn how to honor her friend while still moving on with her own life. Jane is a likable character due to her efforts to support others and make everyone feel appreciated. Despite her positive personality, Jane is dealing with a lot of loss, from missing her dad and best friend, and the threat of losing her after-school club, Kid Lit Quiz. This gives her another layer of character development, which makes her relatable to readers.
Tyson’s nonchalant attitude has given him many friends but poor grades. Everybody in Tyson’s life believes he is a troublemaker. When he tells his mom he’s reading, she scoffs and says “Yeah, right,” which hurts Tyson. When Tyson joins the Kid Lit Quiz team Stefan, another member, asks Jane, “Are you sure he didn’t join as a prank? I didn’t even know he could read, never mind liked it.” Readers will appreciate Tyson’s efforts to change his reputation despite everyone in his life discouraging him – he shows that everyone is capable of greatness despite their past.
Each chapter of The Undercover Book List alternates between Jane’s and Tyson’s perspectives. Jane’s chapters are in the first person, while Tyson’s chapters are in the third person. At first, the shifting points of view are confusing; however, as the teens grow closer, their perspectives overlap and build off each other. As part of The Undercover Book Club, Jane and Tyson write anonymous letters to each other. The novel periodically includes the letters between Jane and Tyson, which allows readers to see the perspectives of each character and watch their growth throughout the novel.
The Undercover Book List highlights the importance of having the strength to embrace change. Jane learns that she is a fantastic leader who can accomplish lofty goals. Tyson manages to transform his reputation from a troublemaker to a successful student. He eventually decides he would rather be kind than popular. The obstacles that the teens face, including vandalism and illness, are handled in a straightforward manner but without sacrificing emotion. By the book’s gratifying conclusion at the Kid Lit Quiz regional competition, both Jane and Tyson prove to be excellent role models.
- Tyson’s friends, Andrew and Affan, “drew penises all over the poster” that Jane made to recruit more students to join. Tyson created “the penis game” several weeks before, where “the goal was to draw as many penises as possible before the risk of discovery forced the vandal to walk away.” This is the only instance of the penis game.
- Tyson and his friends have a reputation as bullies. The pranks these teens pull on others can be mean and targeted, often at a student named Connor. At the beginning of the book, Tyson “ruined [Connor’s] jersey” after dropping it in the lunchroom trash can and “accidentally threw [his] hat on the roof.” As Tyson begins to repair his reputation, he distances himself from the bullying.
- Andrew and Affan want to “put [all Connor’s stuff] where it belongs – in the toilet.” Nothing happens because Connor walks into the locker room while the teens are debating their course of action.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Tyson frequently plays a video game called “Mutant-Z.” It is about “a group of mutants who want to take over the Earth. They battle humans for control over key sites.” Tyson has a character named Lizardo who can “spin his head almost 360 degrees and crawl like a lizard up buildings and across ceilings.” The video game does not have a major role in the novel, but it is mentioned a few times.