Mark didn't ask to move to New Hampshire. Or to go to a hick school like Hardy Elementary. And he certainly didn't request Mr. Maxwell as his teacher. Mr. Maxwell doesn't like rich kids, or slackers, or know-it-alls. And he's decided that Mark is all of those things. Now the whole school is headed out for a week of camping -- Hardy's famous Week in the Woods. At first it sounds dumb, but then Mark begins to open up to life in the country, and he decides it might be okay to learn something new. It might even be fun. But things go all wrong for Mark. The Week in the Woods is not what anyone planned. Especially not Mr. Maxwell. With his uncanny knack to reach right to the heart of kids, Andrew Clements asks -- and answers -- questions about first impressions, fairness, loyalty, and courage -- and exactly what it takes to spend a Week in the Woods.
Mark, the 11-year-old at the center of Clements's (Frindle; The Jacket) brooding and uneven novel, initially has no interest in making friends at his new school in Whitson, N.H., where his constantly traveling parents have just renovated and enlarged a 1798 farmhouse. Knowing that he's headed off to a prestigious boarding school next year, the boy has no incentive for pleasing his teachers and spends much of the day gazing out the classroom window. His science teacher, Mr. Maxwell, passes judgment on Mark before the boy finally decides to give the school a chance ("The only kind of people Mr. Maxwell disliked more than slackers were... buy-the-whole-world rich folks"). A showdown between boy and teacher occurs at the start of the annual environmental program organized by Mr. Maxwell for the fifth graders, who spend a week in a wooded state park. The teacher's discovery of Mark with a tool containing a knife (which actually belongs to another boy) climaxes with a pursuit through the woods. Unfortunately, the suspenseful sequence that follows and the engaging denouement account for only a fraction of the novel. Laborious passages about Mark's family's home and barn and the boy's preparations for the school trip, plus perhaps a bit too much description of Mr. Maxwell's background, bog down the story line and may derail readers drawn to the book's enticing title. Ages 9-13.