Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain at the Academy

The Great Brain at the Academy, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1972 by Dial.

Everyone knew that Tom Fitzgerald, alias the Great Brain, would get into trouble when he went off to school at the strict Catholic Academy for Boys in Salt Lake City. But no one—including Tom—knew just how much. His tongue got him into fifteen demerits’ worth of difficulty the very first day, but his great brain refused to be defeated as Tom set out to outwit the eighth grade, the superintendent, and finally the bishop of the state of Utah. Whether it’s running an illegal candy store or earning a reputation as the fastest potato peeler in the world or introducing the newfangled sport of basketball at the academy, Tom’s great brain never falters. And his money-making schemes rise to new heights—or depths—faced with the challenge of rigorous boarding-school life.

Rating: 3/5

The Great Brain at the Academy is the first time we see Tom without the filter or perspective of John, the narrator. John is still narrating (and is dramatic as ever, bless him), but it’s more of a “here’s what happened to Tom at school,” so most of the book is really third-person from Tom’s point of view. And boy, without that filter, it’s a little hard to handle Tom in all his Great Brain glory.

Tom continues to swindle/trick/outsmart his peers out of their money in this installment, and though there’s some moments of maturity, for the most part Tom continues to be as arrogant as ever about his shrewdness. I do like how Fitzgerald has never portrayed the adults as inept or foolish, and how even when Tom pulls the wool over their eyes, there’s always a moment when he goes too far and the adults step in and prove why Tom’s still a kid. That happens here, too, kinda, though it’s shrouded by Tom pretty much saving his school with some quick thinking and clever wordplay.

 This is one of the Great Brain books I remember the most, though after this read, I’m not sure I like it as much as I remember. Tom is just a little too much for me to handle by himself, and there’s also a point in the novel where I realized that Fitzgerald had made several mistakes—like placing Rory, the eighth-grader, in the seventh-grade dormitory. There’s also a bit too much of Tom being smug and not enough of him being (rightly) scolded for his actions, though at least he gets caught enough times that it evens out slightly in the end. I like these books, but I can only take so much of Tom’s antics.

The Great Brain at the Academy is a good look at what sort of things Tom would get up to at school, though without the usual narrator to be alongside of him, Tom seems even more smug than usual. There’s a good balance of tricks that work versus tricks that don’t, and some glimmers of maturity showing themselves in Tom, though some of his biggest tricks are never found out. I do like how Fitzgerald points out the difference between Tom using his great brain to help people and using it to help get him money, since that distinction is even clearer in this story. Tom is at his best when he’s being selfless, and at his most annoying when he’s not—a good message, perhaps, but it sometimes doesn’t make for a very enjoyable, or evenly paced, read.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

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One thought on “Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain at the Academy

  1. Pingback: Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain Reforms | Leaf's Reviews

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