The Brimstone Journals

The Brimstone Journals

by Ron Koertge, Timothy Basil Ering

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In a startling, often poignant student journal, acclaimed poet and novelist Ron Koertge creates a suburban high school both familiar and terrifying.

The Branston High School Class of 2001 seems familiar enough on the surface: there’s the Smart One, the Fat Kid, Social Conscience, Bad Girl, Good Girl, Jock, Anorexic, Dyke, Rich Boy, Sistah, Stud .

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In a startling, often poignant student journal, acclaimed poet and novelist Ron Koertge creates a suburban high school both familiar and terrifying.

The Branston High School Class of 2001 seems familiar enough on the surface: there’s the Smart One, the Fat Kid, Social Conscience, Bad Girl, Good Girl, Jock, Anorexic, Dyke, Rich Boy, Sistah, Stud . . . and Boyd, an Angry Young Man who has just made a dangerous new friend. Now he’s making a list.

The Branston High School Class of 2001. You might think you know them. You might be surprised.

Narrated by fifteen teenage characters, this startling, often poignant poetic novel evokes a suburban high school both familiar and terrifying — and provides an ideal opportunity for young adults to discuss violence in schools.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Through poems, Koertge (Where the Kissing Never Stops) creates 15 separate narrators, all seniors at Branston (nicknamed "Brimstone") High School, struggling with major problems. Boyd, a white supremacist neglected by his alcoholic father, is staging a school shooting spree. Even the school nurse and at least one teacher are racist: "Our homeroom teacher,/ Ms. Malone... / says black/ people have their own Heaven, but it's/ far enough away from ours so we won't/ have to listen to their music." As Boyd prepares a target list (of "everybody who/ ever blew me off, flipped me off,/ or pissed me off"), the other characters reach their own breaking points; some even consider buying guns from him to solve their troubles. While Koertge's pacing allows readers to sense the building tension, the brevity of the poems provides readers with little insight into the characters, so that they teeter on the edge of melodrama: Kitty is anorexic ("I think if I'm thin enough, I can fly"), Sheila wonders if she's a lesbian because she loves her best friend ("I want to go farther with Monica/ than just good-bye hugs"). Despite some memorable lines ("His dreams are like a box I cannot put down," says Tran, a Vietnamese teen who feels pressured by his immigrant father to become successful), the novel does not have enough heft to compensate for a cast that does not seem fully alive. Ages 14-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, March 2001: The Fat Kid, the Anorexic, the Slut, the Jock...and, most alarmingly, the Angry Boy with a Grudge and a Gun. We meet 15 familiar high school student types through the brief but revealing poems they write. Yes, the characters are stereotypes, but this story of simmering violence has an unexpected ending, in which tragedy is averted and an unlikely character becomes a hero. Like Mel Glenn (author of Split Image, Foreign Exchange, and other YA titles), Koertge, a poet and YA author (Where the Kissing Never Stops, The Arizona Kid, and Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright) employs multiple perspectives and a blank verse format to explore a topic of concern to all YAs. A good companion piece to Todd Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun, another recent YA novel about school violence. The format makes this a quick, easy read, and teachers may want to have students try this kind of writing themselves. Some profanity. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Candlewick, 113p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
Readers follow members of the Branston High School class of 2001 as they move toward graduation. A typical high school senior class, students include the Smart One, the Jock, the Anorexic, the Cheerleader, the Lesbian, the Rich Kid, the Environmentalist, and others. The Angry Young Man, Boyd, with the help of his friend, Mike, is amassing weapons, building bombs, and making a list of who is "expendable" in the coming conflict. Using free verse format, the story is effectively told through journal entries written by members of the class. Suspense builds as the reader wonders whether anyone will have the courage to warn authorities about Boyd's activities before it is too late. Koertge's novel joins a growing list of young adult books that explore the chilling mix of angry teens and access to weapons, and the resulting consequences. These novels include Give A Boy A Gun by Todd Strasser (Simon & Schuster, 2000/VOYA October 2000), Monster by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins, 1999/VOYA August 1999), and Making Up Megaboy by Virginia Walter (DK Ink, 1998/VOYA August 1998). In a departure from his usual humorous situations and quirky characters, Koertge tells a powerful story that reflects today's frightening reality of teen violence. The book jacket illustration of a defaced page of photographs ripped from a high school yearbook will reach out and grab readers. Middle and high school students will find a good story and food for thought in this book. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Candlewick,113p, $15.99. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Linda Roberts SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Children's Literature
Written as journal entries, these startling and poignant free verse poems capture the hurt, angry and confused voices of teens. Branston High's senior class is typical of any American high school with students like Kelly the anorexic, Sheila the lesbian, Damon the jock, Meredith the easy one and Kelli trying to break free from an obsessive boyfriend. Then there is Boyd, the angry young man stockpiling his weapons, culling his followers, and planning his violent attack. These powerful and chilling voices resonate with the echoes of Columbine. Each is strong in its individuality but it is their interconnection to one another and to the simmering violence waiting to explode that resounds from the pages. As each student reveals more about himself the reader is able to put the pieces of the puzzle together for a clear picture of this troubled class. The large number of personalities is at first difficult to sort through but the impression they leave on the reader will remain with him long after the last page is read. 2001, Candlewick Press, $15.99. Ages 14 to 18. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-The students at Branston (aka Brimstone), Koertge's "everyman's high school," know that violence is a fact of life circa 2001. But living in its midst, knowing it's there, and embracing it are very different things. In addition, the young people have other pressing concerns. Kitty's worried about eating-or, rather, not eating. Sheila's got a crush on another girl. Damon's looking for some action from his girlfriend. And Boyd is angry, just plain angry-and motivated. In short poems fashioned like journal entries, 15 kids are profiled, and their sometimes-raw voices provide poignant, honest, and fresh insights into today's teens. Branston could be anywhere, and, sadly, Boyd is an all-too-familiar character. He fuels his anger into a mental hit list of students who will be the target of his revenge. His credo is, "you're invincible until your number comes up." The profiles lead up to a clash of personalities and a strong conclusion in which tragedy is averted. It could have just as easily gone the other way. Young adults will have no trouble relating to the language and banter of these teens. They may even recognize themselves or their friends, for better or worse.-Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.44(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.39(d)
610L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

My dad’d freak if he knew I played with it, but I can’t help myself. And
I’m not hurting anybody.
The bullets are across the room in his sock drawer. The Glock is by the bed, same place as the condoms.
I like to hold it in my hand. Everything gets sharper, I don’t know why.
I feel skinnier instead of just this big bag of fries and Coke and pepperoni.
If I take off my clothes, it’s cool on my skin.
I’d never hurt anybody but if I did this is how I’d do it—butt naked.
And I’d start in the gym. They wouldn’t laugh then, would they? The jocks would crap their pants. The girls’d kiss my fat feet.

My father came here with his parents when he was ten. In the boat, there was room for two to sleep, so they took turns standing up.
By 1980 they owned a small market.
By 1990 three more. My mother and father often worked twenty hours a day. I started stocking shelves at age six.
Everybody warned against black people,
but who turned out to be full of hatred for our prosperity? Others like us, some from a village not five kilometers away from where my mother was born.
Father does not want me to forget the country
I have never seen. Every day an hour of
Vietnamese only. Then another of music with traditional instruments.
He wants me to be richer than he, more successful. Yet he begrudges one hundred dollars for the ugly new glasses I need.
His dreams are like a box I cannot put down.

Dad drifts in about three a.m. a couple of nights ago, and I’m just finishing up Dog Day Afternoon for the nineteenth time.
He’s still a little faded and sometimes that makes him all paternal, so he gets us a couple of beers. I’ve seen this before when he’s shot some pretty good pool and some hootchie’s told him he looks like Harrison Ford.
Things are gonna change, he says. There’s gonna be a lunch for me to take to school every day, sandwiches with that brown mustard. No more doing his laundry.
And you know that dog I always wanted?
It’s mine.
Part of me wants it to be true so bad my teeth hurt. But I’m not holding my breath.
"So how’s school?"
Here we go.
After he calls me stupid about ten times,
I split. I run for like a block but I’m totally out of shape, so I just walk until I stop wanting to kill him. Then I crash in the basement.

A thirty-nine-year-old man in California drives his Cadillac into a playground and kills two kids because he wanted to execute innocent children.
That isn’t a sign of social collapse?
Twenty-five million teenagers go to twenty thousand schools in the U.S.
Ten kids, TEN KIDS, in seven schools did all the shooting, ALL OF IT,
in 1998-99.
In the same two years, grownups in southern California alone massacred forty people.
I know what I’m talking about. I did research for this paper I had to write.
I got a B- because my report "wasn’t focused."
Really? Could that be because when I
was typing it my stepfather kept trying to massage my shoulders because I looked
I’ve told him I hate that. I’ve told my mom.
She says he’s just being friendly.

The Brimstone Journals. Copyright (c) 2001 Ron Koertge. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA

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Meet the Author

Ron Koertge is the author of several acclaimed novels, including THE ARIZONA KID, WHERE THE KISSING NEVER STOPS, and TIGER, TIGER, BURNING BRIGHT, all of which were ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Of The Brimstone Journals, he says, "Usually, I choose characters and settings that are humorous and offbeat. The Brimstone Journals, however, chose me. The characters woke me up at night, the entire first draft took just three weeks. Then the voices were gone and it was time to be a writer again instead of merely taking dictation from god-knows-where." Ron Koertge lives in South Pasadena, California, and teaches English at Pasadena City College, as well as in the MFA in Writing for Children program at Vermont College.

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