The Great Brain Reforms, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1973 by Dial.
The year is 1898, and the best con man in Adenville, Utah, is the infamous twelve-year-old Tom Fitzgerald, “The Great Brain.” A year at the Catholic Academy for Boys certainly hasn’t dulled Tom’s love for money—he’s no sooner off the train than he begins scamming his own brother! By the end of his summer break, Tom has tricked all his friends out of everything they own. He even outwits three professional crooks who come to swindle the whole town. Tom thinks he should be the most popular kid around: He has all the good toys, and he’s saved his townspeople. Tom really begins to rake in the dough when he sets up business as a raftsman. But when he endears the lives of two friends, his brother J.D. decides it’s time for the Great Brain to reform. And that’s how the case of The Kids of Adenvillev s. The Great Brain is tried in the Fitzgeralds’ barn one summer day.
My favorite Great Brain books are the ones where Tom gets a little slap of reality. It’s good fun to see the way he tricks and connives his brothers and friends out of their belongings, but there’s a sort of bittersweet feeling that comes along with it, too. There’s lots of good fun in The Great Brain Reforms, and lots of that bittersweet/aggravated feeling when J.D. continuously falls for his brother’s shenanigans, or Tom sweettalks his way out of trouble. But, as the title promises, there’s also moments where Tom realizes that he’s taken things too far.
The Great Brain has had times in previous books where his schemes have failed him. There’s the moment in More Adventures of the Great Brain where Tom insults the town through his newspaper, and later cries alone in the barn. In The Great Brain at the Academy, Tom is put in his place several times by the priests at school. In The Great Brain Reforms, two whole chapters are dedicated to Tom’s downfall.
Fitzgerald illustrates in this book, to an extent that he never reaches in the previous books, the cost of Tom’s greed, and once again shows the difference between Tom using his brain to help others and Tom using his brain to fill his wallet. Tom is faced with what his actions have cost him—the loss of his friends, the disappointment of his family, and a terrible reputation.
There’s a lot of nuance in this book, and a lot of buildup—Tom slowly gets more and more reckless and greedy in his endeavors. He’s at his most outrageous in this book—and yet, there are moments when normal, brotherly Tom shines through. The ending is inevitable, and there’s a sense of satisfaction to it, even as J.D. reminds us that Tom is the Great Brain, after all, and he’s not likely to reform for long.
The Great Brain Reforms has many aggravating Tom moments, but Fitzgerald is much harsher on Tom in this book than in previous books, as fits the results of his conniving. Tom at last comes face-to-face with the results of his own greed, and it’s satisfying even as the reader feels slightly sorry for Tom. I’d say this is one of the best Great Brain books in terms of displaying consequences, and also in terms of showcasing the difference between when Tom helps people and when he’s just being greedy.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
You can buy this here: https://www.amazon.com/Great-Brain-Reforms-John-Fitzgerald/dp/0440448417