Sam Arthur Tack knew that he was on the threshold of an adventure: the biggest adventure of his life. In fact it was his first adventure, being as he was only twelve years old. He wasn’t to know just how dark and dangerous his adventure would be, but he was still close to tears.
“Be brave, son,” said his father.
His mother had tears rolling down both cheeks. “You make sure you write,” she said. “As soon as you get there.”
“I can’t, though, I—”
“As best you can, love. Draw a picture.”
“I will.” Sam’s voice was a cracked whisper and his lips were wobbling.
“It’s an opportunity,” said his mother. Her voice was swerving and shaking too: she tried hard to steady it. “If anything goes wrong, I want you to promise me—”
“Nothing will go wrong,” said his father. “He’s only off to school. Now, where’s that pound I gave you?”
“In my pocket.”
“You buy a sandwich when you get to Exeter. We’re going to miss you, son.” He shook his son’s hand. “Good luck. Good-bye.”
The train should have left then, to avoid further embarrassment. But trains never leave conveniently and this one was already six minutes late due to a mix-up over staff in the buffet car. The sad farewell had a little while yet to run. Sam rested his chin on the window of the carriage door and let his hands disappear into two long blazer sleeves. He was wearing brand-new clothes: jacket, cap, shorts, shoes, all of them too big. The only thing that fitted him was the black-and-gold striped tie, which roped in an oversized gray shirt collar. He pushed the window a little lower, and everyone tried to think of something to say.
It was lucky for one and all that just at this moment a fat boy, in the same unmistakable school colors—the black and gold of a bee—should cross the platform lugging a well-stocked briefcase, plus various parcels.
“Darling, look!” said Mrs. Tack. “A Ribblestrop blazer!”
It was true. The boy was wearing the very same garment as her son: the same vivid stripes that caused the eye to jar slightly as if a mild hallucination was taking place.
“Hello. Are you Ribblestrop?” said Mr. Tack.
The fat boy looked up. He was breathing heavily. “Yes, I am,” he said. “Jacob Ruskin, I’m a second year—I thought I’d missed this train!” He had a cheery voice and was full of beaming confidence. “Can I get in here? Is this your boy? I say, a new recruit!”
“This is Sam.”
“I thought I’d missed this train. I’ll just—”
“Watch out!” cried Mr. Tack.
The boy yanked open the door and Sam immediately fell on top of him. His parents watched as their son’s two bare knees smacked onto the concrete platform and the new school cap, grabbed at and scrabbled for, rolled between platform and train.
There was a moment of silence.
“I’m sorry,” said the fat boy. “I didn’t realize he was leaning—I thought he was . . . oh Lord. Is he all right?”
“Blast it,” said Mr. Tack. Mr. Tack was lowering himself painfully and was staring into the dark space under the train.
“Nobody wears those caps,” said the fat boy. “I wore mine once for the school photo: I couldn’t tell you where it is now. I say, yoWhen your school’s motto is “Life is dangerous,” you know that anything can happen—and everything does!
This raucous tale of education gone awry is “rollicking, ridiculous, and captivating,” according a Bulletin starred review. There’s no school that’s quite like Ribblestrop, complete with roofless dormitories, distracted teachers, and a perilous underground labyrinth. And then there are the students! You’ll meet Sanchez, a Colombian gangster’s son hiding from kidnappers; Millie, an outcast arsonist and self-confessed wild child; Caspar, the landlady’s spoiled grandson; the helpful but hapless Sam and his best friend Ruskin, plus a handful of orphans from overseas who are just happy to have beds—even if they are located in the roofless part of the building. With the “crazy-school appeal of Hogwarts and the grim humor of Lemony Snicket” (The Independent), Ribblestrop, which was awarded the Children’s Fiction Prize by The Guardian, is sure to delight the most mischievous among us.