Review of Homerooms & Hall Passes, by Tom O’Donnell

Homerooms & Hall Passes

by Tom O’Donnell

Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins), 2019. 337 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Children’s Fiction
2019 Cybils Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Finalist

This book is a whole lot of fun, standing the idea of Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games on its head.

As the book opens, we meet a band of young adventurers – Thromdurr, a barbarian; Sorrowshade, a gloom elf; Vela the Valiant, a paladin; and Devis, a thief. They are scouring a dark and dismal dungeon for treasure and uncover an ancient evil, which they must defeat. Then the scene flashes back to Albiorix, an apprentice wizard, who is eagerly looking forward to his friends’ return, when they will play their weekly role-playing game, Homerooms & Hall Passes.

Welcome to Homerooms & Hall Passes, the role-playing game of nonadventure! With this book (and a set of dice), you and your friends will unlock a strange new world of routine and boredom set in the fictional realm of Suburbia. Imagine, if you will, a place without monsters, magic, treasure, elves, quests, or even, to be perfectly honest, much excitement at all. This place is called middle school.

Albiorix is an avid Hall Master, with a pile of manuals explaining all aspects of the game.

The module he was currently running was called The Semester of Stultification. In tonight’s game, the players would face a daunting series of challenges: a grueling five-paragraph essay dumped on their characters right at the beginning of JADMS Spirit Week. Not to mention an upcoming earth sciences quiz, a concert band recital, a class election, and a big algebra test. To rise to these challenges would take skill, cunning, impeccable time management, and of course a few lucky rolls of the dice. Albiorix chuckled maniacally to himself.

Well, after defeating an evil sorcerer in the dungeon, Devis came back with some cursed treasure. When Albiorix translates the inscription aloud, a curse takes hold – and they are all transported into the game. Can our adventurers actually handle middle school?

They appear in Suburbia with their characters’ names and families – but unfortunately they didn’t magically get the skills of their characters. If they fail or get expelled, they’re out of the game. And that’s a challenge more daunting than any dungeon.

It’s all full of humor as our characters reflect on how different middle school is from “the real world.” I like the way they need help in all their classes – but dazzle everyone in gym class. And I laughed out loud when the gloom elf falls under the sway of the popular girls’ clique.

Our heroes do have some resources ordinary middle school students don’t. But things become much more complicated when an evil part of the “real world” shows up at school.

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