I was fortunate enough to receive this book right before I hopped on a plane and wasn’t interrupted for several hours because I was into this “CON” immediately. Initially, I was reluctant to read about a young man who cons his way into a prep school and then proceeds to bet a girl his ability to stay while she has to leave. But this is more than a prep school scam, as Will Shea, our main character, has an uncle who cons the big rollers in Vegas. Will and his nemesis, Andrea Dufresne, agree to take down Brandt Rush, multi-million dollar trust fund kid. Whoever can get $50,000 from him wins and gets to stay at Connaughton Academy. Joe Schreiber was able to keep the cons coming all the way until the end of Con Academy.
The characters are believable for the YA crowd, but also will work for all audiences. I was impressed with the involvement of Gatsby, a young girl Will meets in the library, and the friendship that emerges. I was afraid the friendship would unfold into an unbelievable romance, but it didn’t. Schrieber touches lightly on the romance side of their relationship, but not enough to make me disregard the devious plot of the con. The uncle and the game players (grifters, as they are known in the con-industry) add another level of development to help take Rush’s money from him seem like child’s play. Why take 50K when you can take 2 million?
The bluffs, double bluffs and plot development made this a quick and entertaining read. There are few trifling moments, but as a huge fan of Ocean’s Eleven, I was okay with these moments balanced between reality and the imagination. The scenes were easy to visualize and, in fact, played out as a movie in my head! It was fast paced and I was so glad I wasn’t next to a chatty person on the plane….I had to be into this book as it was that good.
In the classroom:
Brandt Rush is allowed to use his money in his Economy classroom when watching the markets, or in the case of Connaughton Academy, playing the markets. Most of the kids use virtual money as it is safe, but when you are as well-off as Brandt, one doesn’t have to worry about losing in the market. One of Will’s first encounters with Brandt is in the classroom when he sees Brandt fist bumping the teacher when he closes the deal on a two million dollar sale of a start-up company. Will cannot imagine what it would be like to have this amount of money to lose/win in the markets.
An easy assignment in the social studies classroom is for your students to follow the market for several weeks. When taught in a lecture environment, investment banking is a skill lost on most students. Using CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.3, it was obvious to identify investment banking in the textbook as a skill students can learn from the text. Take it to the next level and give your students virtual cash and have them “play the markets.” Allow your students time to see what happens over time with the market. You can have them write about their experiences or share it out loud.
Con Academy by Joe Schreiber (HMH Books for Young Readers | 9780544320208 | August 4, 2015)