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Gr 5-8-In this laugh-out-loud novel, a young teen on the fast track to the juvenile detention center suddenly finds himself living in rural North Carolina with the outrageously eccentric Applewhite clan. Jake Semple, 13, has been expelled from a long line of schools before coming to the Applewhites to be homeschooled. This extended family forms what a visiting reporter christens an "artistic dynasty," with various creative endeavors absorbing the adults' time and attention. Jake is left largely to his own devices, since the family doesn't believe in telling their charges what or when to study. He develops a loyal following consisting of an active four-year-old and an overweight basset hound, and his transformation is complete once he becomes enmeshed in the family's production of The Sound of Music. Quirky characters, from the cub reporter to the visiting guru, add to the offbeat humor. The Applewhites' over-the-top personalities mark them as literary kin of Helen Cresswell's Bagthorpes. Running beneath the narrative that gently pokes fun at everything from sculpture to TV documentaries, though, is also the story of a boy allowing himself to belong and begin to discover his own potential. This has terrific booktalk and read-aloud potential, and will help fill the need for humorous contemporary fiction.-Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.