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Exit Strategy (MAX)

Review

Exit Strategy (MAX)

Ross Stevens is good at endings. Spectacular endings. Endings that will make his peers at each school he is leaving remember him, despite his short stay in each location. And when he starts at yet another new school at the beginning of EXIT STRATEGY by Lauren Allbright, he is already plotting his great “exit-lence.”

But then, with his grandfather sick and needing help, Ross and his traveling-bassoonist mom return to her hometown to care for him. That’s when things get complicated.

First, Ross must start at a new school as a new kid in the seventh grade, where his first day doesn’t quite go as planned. Second, there’s the science a science project assigned where Ross must create a problem, hypothesize, run an experiment and present his findings. Ross’s project? To test how to be funny, which in his perfect world, will end with an “exit-lence” that will be more epic than any that came before.

"The strengths in EXIT STRATEGY are most apparent in the charts and figures, where the funniest parts of the book come through. Ross, despite his doubts, is one funny seventh-grader."

Using the scientific method as a basis, Allbright leads the reader through the stages of Ross’s project as they coincide with his experience at his new school and the other changes that begin to happen in his life.

The same social concerns that worry every seventh-grader are on display throughout the book: stress over how to fit in and be cool and struggles with self-confidence and individuality. Ross, with emailed input from his best friend, Trent, decides that he’s going to be a different, funnier version of himself. The pair call it “Me But Better.” For Ross, this means being funny and memorable. Beyond Trent, he hasn’t been in any one place long enough to really make friends. Though he never fully admits it, Ross is lonely. Being funny, he figures, will help ease this.

Naturally, things don’t go according to plan, starting with the amount of time that Ross and his mom will be staying with his grandfather. Ross finds he no longer has an exact exit date to work with. He reacts with an understandable measure of shock and panic.

The entire plot is channeled through a series of delightful figures and tables in accordance with the scientific method. Ross doesn’t just talk about being funny: he researches and applies his methods, with mixed results. Like a proper scientist, he records these results.

Ross’s growth as a character is represented well. He starts off with big plans, hits major roadblocks and recovers into a version of “Me, But Better” -- though not the “Me, But Better” he had planned on becoming.

With the exception of Ross’s mother and his classmate Peter, there were other characters that were worthy of more development that didn’t get their due. Jenna, the girl who’s obsessed with truth, had an intriguing story that didn’t get much attention. Perhaps there’s a sequel in the works?

There were also a few details that didn’t get fully explained, and when they were addressed they felt out of place. One example of this is in a figure that charts Ross’s “WORST DAYS EVER!” Toward the top of the pyramid there’s a line that reads “The day I was going to meet my dad. And then he decided he didn’t want to meet me.” That is the only mention of Ross’s father throughout the book and it’s a stunning detail, but the reader never finds out more than that.

In terms of description, while Ross’s emotions are fully described, his setting isn’t always given the same attention. Beyond Peter’s wild hair, there is not much to go off of in terms of physical description. What kind of posters hung on the walls in Ross’s science classroom?

The strengths in EXIT STRATEGY are most apparent in the charts and figures, where the funniest parts of the book come through. Ross, despite his doubts, is one funny seventh-grader. The charts and figures display Ross’s thought processes in a way that would not be accomplished as charmingly in the text alone. These elements are what makes EXIT STRATEGY stand out. The reader can, quite literally, chart Ross’s growth.

Ross’s world radically shifts in EXIT STRATEGY and so does his opinion of what it means to be cool. With a little soul searching and a healthy dose of humor, Ross figures things out at his own pace. He learns transferable lessons about life, friendship and, somewhat sneakily, the scientific method.

Reviewed by Liz Sauchelli on July 26, 2017

Exit Strategy (MAX)
by Lauren Allbright