"Shouldn't You Be in School?": All the Wrong Questions, Book 3

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
"Shouldn't You Be in School?": All the Wrong Questions, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Snicket trails an arsonist in compelling installment.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of vocabulary words to encounter, including "exacerbated," "lepidopterist" (someone who studies moths), " epistemology," "simper," "slatternly," "cudgel," "anagram." Snicket also explains the concept of a "fragmentary plot" in books and crimes.

Positive Messages

Look at everything hidden in plain sight. Keep trying even if you suffer failures along the way to your goal. Be careful whom you trust. Value the friends and associates you can count on. In every library "there is a single book that can answer the question that burns like a fire in the mind." We "have a moral compass, something inside ourselves that tells us the proper thing to do." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lemony Snicket is smart, clever, not easily fooled, dedicated to his cause, and sensitive to others. He's devoted to his sister and loyal to the friends he's made in Stain'd-by-the Sea who help in his investigation: librarian Dashiell Qwerty, taxi drivers Pip and Squeak, diner cook Jake Hix, scientist Cleo Knight, and journalist Moxie Mallahan. He's intrigued by Ellington Feint, but is starting to feel she can't be trusted. Most of the adults in the story are incompetent, particularly the bickering married cops, the Officers Mitchum, and Snicket's chaperone, S. Theodora Markson. Evil mastermind Hangfire remains a menacing figure, as does his mysterious Inhumane Society. 

Violence

The story revolves around an arsonist, so there's much destruction of property. Kids are kidnapped and taken to a school, where they're drugged with laudanum to keep them docile and compliant. Snicket is punched, kicked, tripped, hit on the head with a club twice and knocked out. He mentions the taste of blood in his mouth after a beating in which his lip is cut. A scary beast appears in a fire pond. 

Sex

There's some mild flirting that Snicket deflects with wordplay.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Kids are drugged with laudanum. A man and a boy are each seen with an unlit cigarette in the mouth. When the man asks him, "Do you have fire?" Snicket says no, even though he has matches in his pocket, because he doesn't think adults should smoke. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that "Shouldn't You Be in School?" is the third of four books in the All the Wrong Questions series, set in the strange, faded town of Stain'd-by-the Sea. In this installment, apprentice Lemony Snicket, age "almost 13," and his adult chaperone are investigating a case of arson, which becomes multiple cases. Many of the town's children are kidnapped and forced to stay at a school where they're drugged with laudanum to stay docile and compliant. And narrator Snicket is punched, gets a cut lip, and is clubbed on the head twice and knocked out as he tries to figure out Hangfire's connection to the crimes. 

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old October 8, 2018
Kid, 11 years old February 19, 2018

Amazing

One of the best

What's the story?

Snicket and his chaperone are hired to investigate a case of arson, and a suspect is quickly apprehended, but Snicket knows he's innocent. When more fires keep happening, it's obvious that the young man in jail -- the librarian -- couldn't have done them. Snicket is sure Hangfire's behind them -- but why? Meanwhile, the town's children get kidnapped and taken to an academy where they're drugged with laudanum to remain docile and compliant. And Ellington Feint is mixed up in it all. Can he trust her? Can he rely on his loyal associates to save Stain'd-by-the Sea from villainy?

Is it any good?

There’s as much mystery, excitement, wit, and wordplay as ever. That said, Snicket is more contemplative and introspective here and engages in self-doubt, making him an even more complex, relatable hero. He regrets that he can't help his sister in the city (who's just been arrested) and is frustrated that he hasn't been able to find Ellington Feint's father or rid this strange town of fiendish Hangfire. But the loyalty and reliability of his new friends inspire him to push on and not give up. 

There's no direct confrontation with Hangfire this time, and there are still lots of loose ends to tie up in Book 4, the final installment. But the rich characters and suspenseful plot in Book 3 still add up to a very satisfying and entertaining read. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mysteries. What's fun about them? What makes a good one? Why do you think they're so popular with readers of all ages? 

  • How do you think Shouldn't You Be in School? compares with the other two books in the series? 

  • What do you think will happen in the next All the Wrong Questions series? Will Snicket defeat Hangfire? Will he reunite with his sister? 

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