Girls who love science, engineering, and creativity; girls who are subversive and revolutionary; and girls who have moxie—that’s what Nothing But Trouble by Jacqueline Davies is made of–forget sugar and spice and everything nice! Although this is mostly Maggie Gallagher’s and Lena Polachev’s story, it is also the story of Grandpop, Mrs. Gallagher, Mrs. Dornbusch, and any number of other secondary characters who reveal their ability to face difficulty with spirit, courage, determination, and attitude.
Set in Odawahaka, a small town where the humiliations of childhood follow an individual forever, the plot of Davies’ book revolves around the town’s middle school, its teachers, its students, and its history. Because Oda M no longer meets safety codes, it is due for demolition after this year’s sixth graders move to junior high. Determined to make the year memorable, Maggie Gallagher performs a Ninja incredible hack, but she’s careful to define hacking as “pulling off a prank with style. Something that requires intelligence and technical know-how and daring” (60). Maggie hacks in her dad’s memory. Although Dad died before she was born, Maggie still hears him in her head—solving problems, giving advice, providing warnings, and making snarky comebacks. Like her dad, Maggie is an engineer who dreams in possibility and potential. More interested in the how of something than the what or the why, Maggie also loves explosions but struggles with keeping them quiet, contained, and undetected. Even her unruly mess of curly blond hair looks like an explosion in progress. Because Maggie can’t demolish the past when a car wreck took her father’s life, she hacks, which makes her feel like her father is still alive.
Maggie’s unlikely hacking partner is a creative, camera-packing photographer and artist who laughs easily and takes interest in Dadaism, an art movement that not only protested the brutality of World War I but also made people think and feel and look at the world differently. Favoring independence and nonconformity, neither girl likes “being corralled, herded, [or] led by the nose” (32), but Maggie especially despises “group costumes, group singing, group work, and most of all, group cheering” (29), calling them “synchronized lunacy.” Prior to meeting Lena, Maggie has always worked alone, but together, she and Lena resist the “groupiness” that Principal Shute tries to promote. As a act of protest, they start the Mouse Movement, encouraging all Oda M students to realize that: “The Mouse is every one of us. Standing up to injustice. Battling the forces of evil. Giving a voice to the silent” (170).
Like most good books, Nothing But Trouble has multiple colorful threads that weave themselves into a tapestry of meaning. Besides its lessons about tyranny and the value of independent, creative thought, Davies’ book also teaches that some things change and some things don’t. It provides additional lessons about human behavior, how we often use a gruff, demanding, and difficult demeanor as a cover. In lieu of being sad and sick or depressed and demoralized, we hide behind a mask—a persona that helps us cope until we find our moxie.
- Posted by Donna