For the calamitous Baudelaire orphans, bad luck is the only luck they know. And fortunately for young readers, a mysterious writer named Lemony Snicket is determined to share with everyone just how bad that luck can be. New perils lurk in The Austere Academy, the fifth book in the collection known as A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Since they've already gone through several potential caregivers with disastrous results, Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny are now being sent to the Prufrock Preparatory School, where they will meet some of the most boring and tedious teachers to be found anywhere. First there's vice principal Nero, whose two loves in life are playing the violin (though he is excruciatingly bad) and mimicking what others say. Klaus's teacher, Mrs. Bass, is fixated on measuring things, while Violet's teacher, Mr. Remora, tells boring stories and then tests his students on the details. Baby Sunny, who is too young for school, is instead put to work as Nero's administrative assistant.
The teachers aren't the only problem. None of the students are very friendly, and the cottage the children are assigned to is infested with toe-pinching crabs and a drippy ceiling fungus. But the Baudelaires do manage to make two new friends: the Quagmire Triplets, fellow orphans who are actually only twins at this point since one of the siblings died. Of course, life for the Baudelaires wouldn't be complete without the devious machinations of Count Olaf, who shows up disguised as a gym teacher. His scheme this time, which involves a rigorous workout called S.O.R.E., is far subtler than his past efforts. And by the time Violet, Klaus, and Sunny figure it out, their newfound friends will be added to Olaf's list of victims.
As in prior books, there are several intriguing references to the narrator's life, including more details regarding the death of Beatrice, to whom each book thus far has been bluntly, but amusingly dedicated. These books are written for kids aged nine and up, but the sly humor leads to some adult fun as well. (Beth Amos)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-In this fifth entry in the saga of the three Baudelaire children, the siblings are sent to a boarding school where they are tormented because they are orphans. There is the usual array of stupid/evil adults including the ridiculous Vice Principal Nero, who mimics everything that Klaus and Violet say and employs baby Sunny as his secretary because she is too young to attend class. Brown-nosing brats like Carmelita Spats make the children's lives even more miserable. The ending is a cliff-hanger as the evil Count Olaf, disguised as Coach Genghis, the new gym teacher, drives off with the orphans' only friends. In these days of Harry Potter, this book is a pesky nuisance, with little plot to drive it, situations that fall short of being interesting or off-the-wall, and cardboard characters. The author strains to be eccentric and his constant interruptions in the narrative to define a word or phrase are jarring at best.-Ann Cook, Winter Park Public Library, FL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
A Series of Unfortunate Events #5: The Austere Academy
If you were going to give a gold medal to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn′t give it to her, Carmelita Spats was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway. Carmelita Spats was rude, she was violent, and she was filthy, and it is really a shame that I must describe her to you, because there are enough ghastly and distressing things in this story without even mentioning such an unpleasant person.
It is the Baudelaire orphans, thank goodness, who are the heroes of this story, not the dreadful Carmelita Spats, and if you wanted to give a gold medal to Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, it would be for survival in the face of adversity. Adversity is a word which here means "trouble," and there are very few people in this world who have had the sort of troubling adversity that follows these three children wherever they go. Their trouble began one day when they were relaxing at the beach and received the distressing news that their parents had been killed in a terrible fire, and so were sent to live with a distant relative named Count Olaf.
If you were going to give a gold medal to Count Olaf, you would have to lock it up someplace before the awarding ceremony, because Count Olaf was such a greedy and evil man that he would try to steal it beforehand. The Baudelaire orphans did not have a gold medal, but they did have an enormous fortune that their parents had left them, and it was that fortune Count Olaf tried to snatch. The three siblings survived living with Count Olaf, but just barely, and since then Olaf had followed them everywhere, usually accompanied by one or more of his sinister and ugly associates. No matter who was caring for the Baudelaires, Count Olaf was always right behind them, performing such dastardly deeds that I can scarcely list them all: kidnapping, murder, nasty phone calls, disguises, poison, hypnosis, and atrocious cooking are just some of the adversities the Baudelaire orphans survived at his hands. Even worse, Count Olaf had a bad habit of avoiding capture, so he was always sure to turn up again. It is truly awful that this keeps happening, but that is how the story goes.
I only tell you that the story goes this way because you are about to become acquainted with rude, violent, filthy Carmelita Spats, and if you can′t stand reading about her, you had best put this book down and read something else, because it only gets worse from here. Before too long, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire will have so much adversity that being shoved aside by Carmelita Spats will look like a trip to the ice cream store.
"Get out of my way, you cakesniffers!" said a rude, violent, and filthy little girl, shoving the Baudelaire orphans aside as she dashed by. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were too startled to answer. They were standing on a sidewalk made of bricks, which must have been very old because there was a great deal of dark moss oozing out from in between them. Surrounding the sidewalk was a vast brown lawn that looked like it had never been watered, and on the lawn were hundreds of children running in various directions. Occasionally someone would slip and fall to the ground, only to get back up and keep running. It looked exhausting and pointless, two things that should be avoided at all costs, but the Baudelaire orphans barely glanced at the other children, keeping their eyes on the mossy bricks below them.
Shyness is a curious thing, because, like quicksand, it can strike people at any time, and also, like quicksand, it usually makes its victims look down. This was to be the Baudelaires′ first day at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three siblings found that they would rather look at the oozing moss than at anything else.
"Have you dropped something?" Mr. Poe asked, coughing into a white handkerchief. One place the Baudelaires certainly didn′t want to look was at Mr. Poe, who was walking closely behind them. Mr. Poe was a banker who had been placed in charge of the Baudelaires′ affairs following the terrible fire, and this had turned out to be a lousy idea. Mr. Poe meant well, but a jar of mustard probably also means well and would do a better job of keeping the Baudelaires out of danger. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny had long ago learned that the only thing they could count on from Mr. Poe was that he was always coughing.
"No," Violet replied, "we haven′t dropped anything." Violet was the oldest Baudelaire, and usually she was not shy at all. Violet liked to invent things, and one could often find her thinking hard about her latest invention, with her hair tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. When her inventions were done, she liked to show them to people she knew, who were usually very impressed with her skill. Right now, as she looked down at the mossy bricks, she thought of a machine she could build that could keep moss from growing on the sidewalk, but she felt too nervous to talk about it. What if none of the teachers, children, or administrative staff were interested in her inventions?
As if he were reading her thoughts, Klaus put a hand on Violet′s shoulder, and she smiled at him. Klaus had known for all twelve of his years that his older sister found a hand on her shoulder comforting′as long as the hand was attached to an arm, of course. Normally Klaus would have said something comforting as well, but he was feeling as shy as his sister. Most of the time, Klaus could be found doing what he liked to do best, which was reading.
Copyright C 2000 Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events #5: The Austere Academy. Copyright © by Lemony Snicket. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.