Cover of It Wasn't Me by Dana Alison Levy. A yearbook page with the faces obscured by emojis

About the Book

Title: It Wasn’t Me
Published: 2018

Cover Story: Emojis!
Drinking Buddy: Meh
Testosterone Level: Middle School
Talky Talk: Teacher vs. Student
Bonus Factor: The Breakfast Club
Bromance Status: Detention Buddy

Cover Story: Emojis!

The emjois blocking the characters’ faces are a nice touch, emphasizing how stereotypical one’s role can be. But the title sounds like something I’d say after eating too many beans.

The Deal:

Seventh grade photographer Theo knew better than to agree to display his self portraits in the school gallery. They had barely been hung up when someone wrote horrible things all over them. And just to rub it in, they broke into the darkroom and destroyed his work in progress. The administration is livid, ready to suspend anyone who was even in that same hallway when the vandalism happened. But a teacher named Ms. Lewiston attempts another course of action. Theo, along with the five suspects, will spend all five days of spring break at school in a ‘justice circle’, discussing their feelings. Why they’ll become so close that the guilty party will surely confess.

So that’s how Theo, our narrator, winds up spending a week with five kids who normally wouldn’t give him the time of day: Molly, a princess; Erik, a jock; Jax, a troublemaker; Andre, a nerd; and Alice,a really weird girl.

Where have we heard that before?

Drinking Buddy: Meh

A pitcher and glass of milk

So we have six completely different people who learn, gosh darn it, they’re not so different after all. They’re likeable enough. Alice, who loves special effects and comes to group with fake compound fractures or a third eye. Molly, whose goody-two-shoes persona hides a tragic past. Andre, who’s secretly in a death metal band. Eric, who’s not the dumb jock Theo thought he was. Jax, who has an introspective, sensitive side.

Theo, as a narrator, left a bit to be desired. He had a mopey, Eeyore quality that wore thin quickly. Yes, he was the one who was wronged, but he spends most of the book thinking nasty things about his groupmates, listing their poor qualities and why they may be guilty. And can you blame the other kids for not warming up the Theo? At least four of them are innocent.

Testosterone Level: Middle School

Of course the six kids form a tentative alliance and are soon subverting their earnest but ditzy sponsor and the evil vice principal. They sneak around school, playing soccer, searching for junk food, and learning about Theo’s photography hobby. While there’s a bit of flirt going on between two of the kids, nothing much develops in that direction.

As a former middle school librarian, I wish all seventh graders could be as trustworthy as this crew.

Talky Talk: Teacher vs. Student

As a reader, I found the book to be okay. As a teacher, my head nearly exploded.

First of all, this book was a bad example of Saved By the Bell syndrome, where every teacher is either an idiot or a sadist. Mrs. Lewiston is an easily-manipulated airhead, while Mrs. Davidson, the vice principal, is so cruel that Dolores Umbridge might have balked. She actually threatens to fire Lewiston because she took the kids to the library. Not the public library, but the one in the school. And she threatens to suspend all the suspects,without evidence. If you want a dozen furious parents in your office, start punishing kids because they look guilty.

Also, the whole justice circle thing was absurd. Sure, I’m all for alternate forms of discipline, but making six kids (and two staff members) give up their vacation would be a wonderful way to make everyone hate Theo, the victim. And they make Theo attend! Sorry, but in real life he would have been a dead man. Theo, who just wanted to be left alone, winds up spending a week in the middle of a circle of angry students, sometimes literally.

This could have been a much stronger book if all the kids were really guilty of something and the detention was much shorter, but that might have been too derivative (see below).

Bonus Factor: The Breakfast Club

Cast of The Breakfast Club

In the acknowledgements, the author mentions this movie as an inspiration. But the characters, except for Theo, are pretty much straight out of the film:

Molly Claremont: Molly Ringwald (whose character was named Claire)

Andre Hall: Anthony Michael Hall

Erik Estrale: Emilio Estevez

Alice Shu: Ally Sheedy

Jax Fletcher: Jud Nelson

Bromance Status: Detention Buddy

As a fan of the film, I’m in. But a modern day middle school student is not going to realize how derivative this book is.

Literary Matchmaking

The Art of Secrets

Another art-related school mystery, James Klise’s The Art of Secrets, is a little more adult.

One of Us is Lying

For a Breakfast Club-esque mystery, read Karen M.Macmanus’s One of Us Is Lying.

Strange Lies (Strange #2)

Maggie Thrash’s Strange Lies is an equally unbelievable school mystery.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor a pinhole camera for writing this review.

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Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.