A review by constant2m
The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted, by Conor Grennan


The Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted was one of the most exceptional books I've read this year. It does check all the boxes of my favorite categories: Middle Grade, Christian, fantasy/science fiction. Several other reviewers wrote that this was Hunger Games, Divergent, X-Men, and Harry Potter all rolled into one. It is definitely a book for anyone who loves those, but simultaneously so different from any of them.

The intrigue began on the first page when Jack sits through his best friend's history presentation, which sounds exactly like a conspiracy theory, as is always the case with Freddy. Freddy describes the Hadley Academy for the Improbably Gifted, which he learned about on the dark web, and even shows the class a map of the island it's on. The academy is, of course, invisible to ordinary mortals. Embarrassed by his friend's presentation, Jack asks to use the bathroom and is immediately pursued by some strange beings, rescued by an old acquaintance, and brought to...The Hadley Academy. This opening is genius because the story could have so easily gone in two directions. One, the academy was all in Freddy's head and he and Jack were both ordinary middle schoolers. Two, the academy is real and Jack and Freddy actually end up there. I would have read either of those stories but was enthralled by the world-building in this one.

At the academy, Jack quickly learns about different kinds of giftings and the strengths and weaknesses innate to each. He also realizes that he isn't gifted. And neither are his new friends who are brought in to be part of his team. They have three days for their gifts to awaken or they will be removed from the academy and their memories of the three days, as well as their former lives, will be wiped. And the adventure begins.

The story continued, with every event, every person, and every conversation being tied together as crucial parts of the saga. I had to read back several times, not because I lost interest, but because I had to make sure I remembered previous conversations that tied in to present moments. Fabulous storytelling! Also, despite the ending being part happily ever after and part cliff hanger (but not so you'll lose sleep over it), this was a complete story with all the wonderful twists and turns that story entailed.

Something beautiful about this story, something that seems to be unique to Christian fantasy, was the idea that you can believe in something impossible without evidence. Christians are sometimes accused of this and mocked for it, but when you see it play out in real life, it often begins a beautiful story. Jack's story began that way. There was nothing remarkable about him. But one person believed he was the boy who was prophesied. And that belief started a chain of events that led to everyone eventually seeing who Jack was. But there was no reason to believe Jack was anyone special in the beginning.

There were many other beautiful moments in the story, but I'll share two more. First, there is the saying, "trusting someone is more important than believing them" (219). I had never thought about this before, but it's true. There are people who tell incredible stories that I would still trust with my life. There are others who always tell the truth, but who I still can't trust. This maxim, which appeared several times in the story, is a good reminder of what truly matters most. Second, the way gifts were treated was poignant. When Jack first arrived at the academy, one of the teachers told him, "Everyone is born with a gift. Improbables ignore what the world tells them. They risk looking different, looking strange, in order to explore their gift. That is true courage" (21) Later on, a young boy said something similar: "I am human, and every human is born with a gift. I have chosen to use mine" (277). This is something else we often forget. We are all gifted. Maybe our gifts don't fit the mold of what we think gifts look like or what we want them to be, but we are all gifted. Like the boy, may we choose to use our gifts.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and have reviewed it willingly.