Book: The Austere Academy

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The Austere Academy: Book 5 of A Series of Unfortunate Events

Author: Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
Publisher: HarperCollins

Dear Reader,

If you are looking for a story about cheerful youngsters spending a jolly time at boarding school, look elsewhere. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire arc intelligent and resourceful children, and you might expect that they would do very well at school. Don’t. For the Baudelaires, school turns out to be another miserable episode in their unlucky lives.

Truth be told, within the chapters that make up this dreadful story, the children will face snapping crabs, strict punishments, dripping fungus, comprehensive exams, violin recitals, S.O.R.E., and the metric system.

It is my solemn duty to stay up all night researching and writing the history of these three hapless youngsters, but you may be more comfortable getting a good night’s sleep. In that case, you should probably choose some other book.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket


As the three Baudelaire orphans warily approach their new home—Prufrock Preparatory School—they can’t help but notice the enormous stone arch bearing the school’s motto Memento Mori, or “Remember you will die.” This is not a cheerful greeting, and certainly marks an inauspicious beginning to a very bleak story. Of course, this is what we have come to expect from Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, the deliciously morbid set of books that began with The Bad Beginning and only got worse.

In The Austere Academy, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are at first optimistic—attending school is a welcome change for the book-loving trio, and the academy is allegedly safe from the dreaded Count Olaf, who is after their fortune. Hope dissipates quickly, however, when they meet Vice Principal Nero, a self-professed genius violinist who sneeringly imitates their every word. More dreadful still, he houses them in the tin Orphans Shack, crawling with toe-biting crabs and dripping with a mysterious tan fungus. A beam of light shines through the despair when the Baudelaires meet the Quagmires, two of three orphaned triplets who are no strangers to disaster and sympathize with their predicament. When Count Olaf appears on the scene disguised as Coach Genghis (covering his monobrow with a turban and his ankle tattoo with expensive running shoes), the Quagmires resolve to come to the aid of their new friends. Sadly, this proves to be a hideous mistake.

Snicket disarms us again with his playful juxtapositions—only he can compare bombs with strawberry shortcake (both are as dangerous to make as assumptions), muse on how babies adjust developmentally to the idea of curtains, or ponder why the Baudelaire orphans would not want to be stalks of celery despite their incessant bad luck as humans. We can’t get enough of this splendid series of misadventures, and can only wager that swarms of young readers will be right next to us in line for the next installment. (Ages 9 and older) —Karin Snelson

Barnes and Noble

For the calamitous Baudelaire orphans, bad luck is the only luck they know. And fortunately for young readers, a mysterious writer named Lemony Snicket is determined to share with everyone just how bad that luck can be. New perils lurk in The Austere Academy, the fifth book in the collection known as A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Since they’ve already gone through several potential caregivers with disastrous results, Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny are now being sent to the Prufrock Preparatory School, where they will meet some of the most boring and tedious teachers to be found anywhere. First there’s vice principal Nero, whose two loves in life are playing the violin (though he is excruciatingly bad) and mimicking what others say. Klaus’s teacher, Mrs. Bass, is fixated on measuring things, while Violet’s teacher, Mr. Remora, tells boring stories and then tests his students on the details. Baby Sunny, who is too young for school, is instead put to work as Nero’s administrative assistant.

The teachers aren’t the only problem. None of the students are very friendly, and the cottage the children are assigned to is infested with toe-pinching crabs and a drippy ceiling fungus. But the Baudelaires do manage to make two new friends: the Quagmire Triplets, fellow orphans who are actually only twins at this point since one of the siblings died. Of course, life for the Baudelaires wouldn’t be complete without the devious machinations of Count Olaf, who shows up disguised as a gym teacher. His scheme this time, which involves a rigorous workout called S.O.R.E., is far subtler than his past efforts. And by the time Violet, Klaus, and Sunny figure it out, their newfound friends will be added to Olaf’s list of victims.

As in prior books, there are several intriguing references to the narrator’s life, including more details regarding the death of Beatrice, to whom each book thus far has been bluntly, but amusingly dedicated. These books are written for kids aged nine and up, but the sly humor leads to some adult fun as well. (Beth Amos)

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