The School of Possibilities

The School of Possibilities

5.0 1
by Seita Parkkola, Jani Ikonen

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Storm Steele is an impossible child.

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Storm Steele is an impossible child.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this inventive, surreal, but somewhat incoherent tale, 12-year-old Storm Steele, a good-hearted but undisciplined boy who has failed at his previous schools, is enrolled by his incompetent father and overbearing stepmother at the experimental School of Possibilities, where strict discipline is the rule. If he fails, he is told, "I will be expelled, and after that, nothing good will be waiting for me in this life." Storm soon runs afoul of a variety of seemingly irrational school regulations. He refuses to take up mandatory hobbies, is uninterested in the girlfriend he has been assigned, and hears rumors of children who have disappeared after failing. This satire about repressive educational methods, vaguely reminiscent of Louis Sachar's Holes, was a bestseller in Parkkola's native Finland. But it is hamstrung by an often awkward and unidiomatic translation ("I waited patiently for the evening meal, and when it arrived, I tried to tell them at the table something vague about my class soccer training and my buddy who was waiting for me in the car park") that makes for halted reading. Ages 9-12. (June)
"Part dystopian novel and part sinister fairy tale, Finnish author Parkkola's first book explores order-loving adults' attempts to suck the free spirits out of children-at any cost. The author's black-and-white expressionistic drawings add an air of eerie unreality... [that] will set readers to thinking about their own possibilities-and futures."
From the Publisher
""The dark, richly detailed setting of this Finlandia Junior Prize nominee will capture imaginations. Ikonen's illustrations accentuate the surrealist horror as the tale spirals into thriller."" - Kirkus

""Part dystopian novel and part sinister fairy tale, Finnish author Parkkola's first book explores order-loving adults' attempts to suck the free spirits out of children-at any cost. The author's black-and-white expressionistic drawings add an air of eerie unreality... [that] will set readers to thinking about their own possibilities-and futures."" - Booklist

""This cautionary tale, first published in Finland, explores the concept of whether giving up freedom for the greater good is wise or worthwhile... The teens in the story are multidimensional... The book suggests that having a childlike enthusiasm is the key to being truly free." - VOYA
" - VOYA

"This story's suspenseful trajectory will keep readers turning pages as events spiral to a climactic finale." - ForeWord

"Storm is an intriguing narrator...Ikonen's gritty, expressionist black-and-white illustrations heighten the surreal, increasingly suspenseful tone of the novel. Offer this to horror fans, particularly Gaiman buffs... " - Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

""The School of Possibilities has been called part dystopian novel and part sinister fairy tale. However you'd like to classify it, it will school you in it's deep dark secrets.

Young readers will immediately hit it off with Storm who's down to earth, but edgy enough to be classified as the cool kid you always imagined what it would be like to hang with. As the School tightens it's leash around Storm, you'll want to help him escape and break free from the obsessive adults attempting to steal his free spirit." -" -

""a fierce little story with edgy characters." - Red-Headed Book Child" - Red-Headed Book Child

""This book reminded me of Coraline by Neil Gaiman because it has the strange, curious, dark and horror movie feel to it. This book has great imagination and I thought the writing was good with an interesting plot and a great main character—Storm Steele is smart and brave... I thought the illustrations in the book a nice addition and it's like something Storm might have drawn. All in all, I recommend this book to middle grade readers and those who enjoy Coraline-like stories." - Michelle and Leslie's Book Picks" - Michelle and Leslie's Book Picks

""I will try anything as unexpected as a teen novel from Finland. So I did. And I was happy about it. For, like the Finnish school system and digital telephony, The School of Possibilities, a modern fairy tale that dances with horror and delight, is an extremely successful item." - Pink Me" - Pink Me

""It has a Roald Dahl-ish quality that is both startling and appealing: a kind of parable/horror /adventure story, complete with very eerie illustrations... The writing is clean and sparse, yet quite poetic and filled with dialogue that is true to the characters the author has created and has a kind of sophistication and cleverness that kids and adults will both appreciate." - Lit for Kids" - Lit for Kids

VOYA - Chris Carlson
In this futuristic fantasy, twelve-year-old Storm Steele is enrolled in The School of Possibilities, a place for unruly children where discipline is strictly enforced and bizarre punishments are imposed on those who misbehave. Once there, Storm's beloved skateboard is confiscated, and he is assigned a best friend and, as his first punishment, a girlfriend who accompanies him at all times and report his misdeeds. Storm's stepmother is the school counselor, who enforces the militaristic discipline and keeps death masks of the students in the basement of the school. Storm bonds with a group of teen escapees from the school, who live in an abandoned factory near his home. Together they manage to subvert Storm's fellow classmates by destroying the masks, liberating the students from their zombie-like existence, and bringing down the destruction of the school and its autocratic philosophy. This cautionary tale, first published in Finland, explores the concept of whether giving up freedom for the greater good is wise or worthwhile. While the teens in the story are multidimensional, the adult characters are either pathetic or sadistic, as they use reward and punishment to dominate others. The book suggests that having a childlike enthusiasm is the key to being truly free. The black-and-white illustrations do little to enhance the text. The story drags at times, and the characters are sometimes too unbelievable, but there are enough twists and turns to appeal to readers who prefer science fiction to fantasy. Reviewer: Chris Carlson
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—This import explores themes of education, family, freedom, and rebellion through an innovative and entertaining narrative. Labeled "an impossible child" because of his skateboarding and other impulsive behaviors, 12-year-old Storm is sent to the School of Possibilities, where "desperate children learn obedience." The boy soon experiences bizarre methods of discipline that include an assigned best friend who is clearly an enemy and a variety of subtle and overt humiliations from school staff and model students. As Storm's status worsens, he meets India, the enigmatic leader of a small group of homeless "outlaw" kids who oppose the school. Using stealth and graffiti, they challenge the authorities and try to uncover the ominous secret that lies in the school's basement. Storm's wry narration shifts smoothly from humorous irony to fear and desperation, matching the satire and suspense that run simultaneously through the novel. His words and behavior are never predictable, making him an especially engaging protagonist. The evil counselor, also Storm's new stepmother, makes a formidable lead villain, while the robotic students and the boy's frustratingly apathetic parents serve as further threats to his freedom. The strongly developed urban setting has a surrealistic feel, with the looming, sterile school buildings literally and figuratively opposing the dark factory that the outlaws use as their refuge. Black-and-white line drawings neatly reflect the chaos of Storm's world. Foreshadowing occasionally delays forward progress of the plot, but the fine characterizations and palpable atmosphere are dynamic enough to hold interest, and build to a satisfying conclusion.—Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Storm isn't a bad boy, but he's "not a good one either." Graffiti, skateboarding and forbidden train journeys get him forcibly enrolled at the last-ditch School of Possibilities. There, Storm's life degenerates into increasingly nightmarish, magical-realist twists. His fellow students are excruciatingly obedient, even as they have sports, hobbies and girlfriends assigned as punishments. His parents, a wedding-dress seamstress and a Russian chef, both vanish mysteriously. The only bright spot in Storm's heavily controlled life (he's barricaded into his room nightly) is his friendship with the street children India, Mew, Ra and Moon. Squatting in a derelict biscuit factory, the runaways urge Storm to solve the terrible mystery of The School of Possibilities before it's too late for him-or anyone else. Though brief moments will ring problematically for American readers ("She could have been a Native American chief...[or] a bird or some long-extinct human species"), the dark, richly detailed setting of this Finlandia Junior Prize nominee will capture imaginations. Ikonen's illustrations accentuate the surrealist horror as the tale spirals into thriller. (Surrealism. 11-13)

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Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.62(h) x 1.08(d)
650L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

From the Prologue:

I am Storm, and I am twelve. Not a bad age. But it could be the worst thing that ever happens to a boy. Worse than being kidnapped by body snatchers or being stuck in detention forever. Being twelve is like being in an eight-vehicle car wreck. It's like being stuck upside down on a roller coaster.

This is my story.

It is also a story about India, who is a girl, not a country or a subcontinent, and about a derelict cookie factory that used to be a hospital. I am not a bad boy, but I'm not a good one, either.

My thing is flying.

Many people want to fly, but not everyone can. You need wings. I've got wings. I've got a skateboard.

When you want to fly, you must be fearless. I am fearless. Maybe you've seen me around. I'm the boy on the bus with hair hanging over his eyes, with a board under one arm or in his bag. You'll never see me without my board or my board without me. We are one, as the saying goes. When I drop my board on the ground, lift my foot onto it, and kick off, no one can catch me. At least not by running or driving in a police car. Not anyone, ever. From time to time, the board gets wrecked, because in this game, you often fall off and sometimes fall over. Anyone who wants to fly shouldn't be afraid of bruises or broken bones. Quite a few skaters have had this or that split, like knees or insides.

I am starting at a new school this fall. The school is called the School of Possibilities. It is my last chance. That's what Mom, Dad, the headmaster, and a few others have told me. They've said that I had better believe it, because otherwise, I will be expelled, and after that, nothing good will be waiting for me in this life. There are places you can be sent to, even after you've been given your last chance, but they are talked about in whispers. They are meant for troublemakers who have no other hope. If you mess up your last chance, you get sent to the school for lost children, and your life will be ruled by the law of the jungle. In the School of the Lost, if you punch another child, you get a teardrop tattooed on your cheek. The worst kids have cheeks covered in tears. The School of the Lost is somewhere on the edge of the city-nobody really knows where. Children whisper about it in their yards and on the streets. It is said that there are no pictures on the walls there, and the students don't learn the rivers of Europe or the dates of revolutions and wars. They do time-a bit like in prison. When this story begins, I only have one more opportunity before it's prison for me. If I fail, I will be Lost No. 101...or something like that.

After that, there is nothing.

I don't intend to fail.

Before I begin the story, I'll show you a place. It's a derelict factory. Nobody owns it. Nobody looks after it. It stands on the other side of the railroad tracks in the middle of a run-down neighborhood of wooden houses. It is as big as a castle and as black as a hole in a mountain. I liked it as soon as I saw it.

The factory is empty. Its windows and everything else inside it are broken. Even from the yard, you can see that it's a dark place-so dark that you need a flashlight or eyes like a rat's to walk through it. A tower stands at the side of the factory. It stands high above everything else, and you can almost see the whole city from it. You can only get up there using your sense of touch. If you were to use a flashlight, you would soon see that the walls of the tower are covered in painted pictures and writing. The place looks a little like a cave decorated with ancient markings:

I woz here. I'll be back. Tom & Tilly. Don't all asleep.
Don't fall down. Don't fall over. Fall over anyway.

When we get to the top of the tower, I'll hand you some binoculars. They are an important tool. My mother gave them to me on the day this story starts. Through the binoculars, you can see the harbor and my new school. You can see the building I live in when I stay with my father. It is the middle one of those three skyscrapers.

Doesn't look like much, does it? You wouldn't want to live there. I live halfway up. The apartment has four rooms and a kitchen. It has a walk-in closet, a covered balcony, and a time slot in the basement sauna on Saturdays. There is a plaque on the door that says "Steele and Poole." My father and I are Steele. My father's new wife is Poole-Verity Poole. She is thin, although she eats nonstop. She is a bit like a spider that digs a hole and lies in wait for prey. Poole is also very good at a type of martial arts practiced by older people. She met Dad when she was eating goulash in his restaurant on the ground floor of our building. They fell in love.

Poole is a school counselor. You know, those people at school who look after children with problems-kids who are being bullied, or they are bullies themselves, or they are sick, or they have moved from somewhere else...or whatever. The counselor is the students' friend-that's the idea, at least. Verity Poole is a counselor at the school that gave me my last chance. You can probably guess the rest. She arranged for me to go to that school. It is thanks to Poole that I was given one more chance. She told Dad about the school. She really sold it to him. She said that the school was experimenting in new child-friendly methods, and that they would work even for me.

Verity Poole thinks she knows everything about boys, but she can think what she likes. The fact is that she knows nothing about boys. Her own child is a girl. The girl is called Mona, and she's in the eighth grade. When I saw Mona for the first time, she was standing in front of the mirror, combing her long black hair, and she called me little brother. "You look like a prince, little brother," she said, and asked if she could put some kohl on me. Kohl is a kind of pencil used by girls to draw on their faces. Mona wanted to pierce my eyes with it. That's what I think.

Mona has a white face, and she listens to dismal music. When you look at Mona, you instinctively expect a sudden spurt of blood to erupt from her mouth, like a vampire. She calls many boys "princes." She particularly calls boys whose eyes she wants to pierce "princes." Mona has the names of all these princes written on her arms and her pencil case. She describes them as tattoos, although she has drawn them with marker pens.

When you look out from the tower, you can also see the city center. That's where my mother lives. That's where I live when it's time to stay with my mom. You can see the tower from Mom's window. The tower is visible from almost anywhere in the city, just as you can see everything from the tower.

Now that you have seen all this, we can come down from the tower and run across the yard.

Now I'll begin.

This is the first day.

This is where it all starts.

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