The Phantom Bully (Jedi Academy #3), by Jeffrey Brown
Among the most notable aspects of this series as a whole is relatability, and this book provides something that most of its readers, young and not-so-young, are likely able to relate to, and that is having someone that is a secret enemy that wishes to cause one great harm. Roan is a smart kid–far smarter than he sometimes realizes himself–but he is not so organized or so on top of things that he is unable to be target by someone who wishes him harm, as is the case here during his last year of middle school when he is in the 8th grade. While he is hoping to graduate and preparing for the next stage of his education as he thinks seriously about adulthood, someone is looking to do him harm, and is threatening his graduation and making life deeply uncomfortable for him. That said, there is a lot about this graphic novel that doesn’t have to do with the bully, much of it including Roan’s attempts to understand his grumpy but compassionate instructor, Mr. Garfield, all of which give him some additional insights as to the thinking process of the confusing people he happens to be around.
In this particular story, our brave and intrepid hero is a thirteen year old who has sought to leave his boring world for the bright lights of the Jedi Academy. He deals with a budding relationship with the lovely Gaiana as well as the mysterious actions of someone who appears to want to get him to fail out of Jedi Academy and force him to stay another year, which would no doubt be very embarrassing. Some of these pranks are serious and seriously harmful, and the plot of the novel pushes towards the final challenge that the students have to prepare for that tests all of the skills that they have learned over the three years of Jedi Academy in rigorous ways. As the story progresses, the wise reader begins to understand that the way that people are behaving now will have serious consequences that last into adulthood, and that some people are not making the sort of decisions that will lead to happiness and moral growth. Of course, Roan here is portrayed as a basically decent if not always mature person and by the end of the story we can be confident that whatever he does and wherever he goes, he will likely do fine.
Where this book particularly shines is in its discussion of the motivations of various supporting characters. Roan finds himself, by the end of the novel, to be capable of great generosity of spirit for his younger brother (whose development of Jedi skills suggests a family that has a lot of potential), considerable understanding of his tutor and what Mr. Garfield has been trying to encourage him to do, and a great deal of growth in his relationship with Gaiana. There are, as always, plenty of funny Ewok Pilot cartoons that contain a great deal of commentary on Roan’s growing empathy and understanding (having the titular pilot team up with a Jawa is particularly humorous and revealing). And the ending is quite surprising and also very telling, as the author manages to find a compelling way to point out the two ways that villainy in his universe most exposes itself, in the charming but callous behavior of smooth politicians as well as the more crude and nasty behavior of bullies, both of which end up being particularly wicked as far as the author is concerned. This aspect of the book will likely leave many of the book’s readers pondering about its implications for the real world.