Kat's father, a middle-school science teacher, has received a job offer at a prestigious private school in New Hampshire. The book opens as Kat and her parents leave Iowa and head across country in their rental truck toward their new life.
Kat feels a bit out of her element at the new school, where she has to wear an uncomfortable uniform and deal with snarky cliques and unfamiliar sports. Having her father as a teacher is also a bit embarrassing, but she makes friends with another relatively new student, Mee-Seen, known as "Mouse."
When someone steals the microscopes from her father's lab - and leaves a blackmail note for him, demanding high grades for everyone in the class, Kat and Mouse put their heads together to discover the culprit. They are both intelligent girls, and together, they discover, they make a great team.
I loved that the friends are puzzled by the obnoxiousness of the "popular" girls but clearly have no desire to emulate them or be part of their group. They are unabashedly intelligent, and they put their brains to good use. I also liked the fact that Kat's parents are not the two-dimensional parental constructs seen in many graphic novels. They are peripheral to the story, but we still see them dealing with their own challenges and issues.
The illustrations are clearly manga-inspired, but the faces in particular seem less stylized and more realistic than most manga. The artwork does a great job of depicting the emotional elements of each scene, and the mix of humor, mystery and school politics makes for an engaging read. I'm passing this one on to my 10-year-old, who I think will enjoy it, particularly the do-it-yourself science experiment that is included at the end of the book (which Kat and Mouse use in order to solve the mystery). I think this would appeal to fans of Baby Mouse, Fashion Kitty and, of course, Agent Boo (also by de Campi).
Books in the Kat & Mouse manga series:
1. Teacher Torture
3. The Ice Storm
Teacher Torture (#1 in the Kat & Mouse manga series) by Alex de Campi and Federica Manfredi (Tokyopop, 2006)
Also reviewed at:
A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy: "...have a hard time now with books where that (being popular!) drives the character. I much prefer a book like this which is about having friends, having fun, but not sacrificing self."
Chicken Spaghetti: "The art is very appealing and de Campi writes her characters with a great sense of humor, making Kat and Mouse a fun read for any kid who enjoys a detective story."
The Shady Glade: "With art that is a little more realistic-looking than traditional manga, you can almost see yourself at Kat’s school."