Bucking the Sarge

Bucking the Sarge

3.5 19
by Christopher Paul Curtis

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Luther T. Farrell has got to get out of Flint, Michigan.

As his best friend Sparky says, “Flint’s nothing but the Titanic.”

And his mother, a.k.a. the Sarge, says, “Take my advice and stay off the sucker path.”

The Sarge milked the system to build an empire of slum housing and group homes. Luther’s just one of the many


Luther T. Farrell has got to get out of Flint, Michigan.

As his best friend Sparky says, “Flint’s nothing but the Titanic.”

And his mother, a.k.a. the Sarge, says, “Take my advice and stay off the sucker path.”

The Sarge milked the system to build an empire of slum housing and group homes. Luther’s just one of the many people trapped in the Sarge’s Evil Empire—but he’s about to bust out.

If Luther wins the science fair this year, he’ll be on track for college and a future as America’s best-known and best-loved philosopher. All he’s got to do is beat his arch rival Shayla Patrick, the beautiful daughter of Flint’s finest undertaker—and the love of Luther’s life.

Sparky’s escape plans involve a pit bull named Poofy and the world’s scariest rat. Oh, and Luther. Add to the mix Chester X., Luther’s mysterious roommate; Dontay Gaddy, a lawyer whose phone number is 1-800-SUE’M ALL; and Darnell Dixon, the Sarge’s go-to guy who knows how to break all the rules.

Bucking the Sarge is a story that only Christopher Paul Curtis could tell. Once again the Newbery Award–winning author of Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 gives us a whole new angle on life and a world full of unforgettable and hilarious characters. Readers will root for Luther and Sparky every step of the way.

Praise for The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963:

“An exceptional first novel.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Ribald humor . . . and a totally believable child’s view of the world will make this book an instant hit.”—School Library
, Starred

Praise for Bud, Not Buddy:

“Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud.”
School Library Journal, Starred

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
PW's starred review said, "Featuring characters so lively they seem to jump off the page and a gratifying resolution, this vibrant modern-day battle between greed and morality proves that there is more than one way to come out on top." Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Newbery award-winning author Curtis aims for an older audience and hits a bull's-eye with this darker and uglier contemporary portrait of his native Flint, Michigan. Ninth-grader Luther T. Farrell loathes his greedy, loan-sharking, slumlord mother, known to everyone as "the Sarge," who milks the system to take advantage of disadvantaged, elderly, and low-income people. Even more loathsome is his mother's henchman/lover, Darnell Dixon, who has no compunction about breaking all the rules and forces Luther to do some of the dirty work. Luther's dream is to escape Flint forever, and winning his third science fair will put him on track for college. Luther gets the opportunity to break ties with his mother once and for all and expose her for the villain she is when his science project, about the effects of lead paint on the development of children, ties for first place. Luther's project prompts the mayor's office to launch a citywide investigation that means big trouble for the Sarge, who years ago fraudulently obtained and used lead paint for her properties. Infuriated, the Sarge tells Luther to pack his bags, but he finds her stash of hidden money, takes enough to pay for college, and heads down south to pursue his dream. This superbly crafted story is populated by memorable quirky characters, such as Luther's best friend, Sparky, and his mysterious octogenarian roommate. As in Curtis's other novels, there is plenty of hilarity. At the core of the story, though, is Luther's profoundly inspiring determination to stay true to his values and to force his mother to answer for her many transgressions. No library should be without it. VOYA CODES: 5Q 5P J S (Hard to imagine it being any betterwritten; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 240p., and PLB Ages 12 to 18.
—Ed Sullivan
Children's Literature
Middle-schooler Luther T. Farrell has carried in his wallet for years the world's oldest condom, nicknamed Chauncey, and worries about being overheard while masturbating in the group home for the mentally handicapped that he manages for his mother, the Sarge, a scheming slumlord in Flint, Michigan. Curtis's latest novel is decidedly darker and seamier than The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 and Bud, Not Buddy. It takes a strong stomach to get through scenes of Luther changing the poop-filled pants of one of his charges, or his friend Sparky trying to get his hand bitten by a rabid rat to ground a fraudulent lawsuit. The Sarge is a one-dimensional caricature of evil—the seeming twin of the Warden in Louis Sachar's Holes—but it is unsettling to have such a character appear in a work of realistic fiction. And it is inconsistent that an obsessively greedy and abusive mother who cares so little about her son would make any financial sacrifice—however underhanded—to help him win his school's annual science fair or attend the award ceremony afterward, both of which are central to Curtis's plot. Curtis's genius as a writer shines through in Luther's hilarious and winning narrative voice, and in his huge and generous heart. But just as Luther is desperate to leave behind the depressing world of Flint, Michigan, readers may feel equally impatient to leave behind the depressing world of this book. 2004, Wendy Lamb, Ages 12 up.
—Claudia Mills
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2004: Two women dominate the life of Luther T. Farrell, age 15. He's in love with his beautiful classmate Shayla, though she is his rival to win the school science fair. The other woman is his terrifying mother (aka the Sarge), who has him trapped in her "Evil Empire." She's a loan shark, a slum landlord, and the owner of a number of group homes, all part of her quest to become rich and powerful, no matter who she steps on along the way. Despite Luther's age, she has put him in charge of one of her homes, "The Happy Neighbor Group Home for Men," where he works hard cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the residents for her. In his spare time she puts Luther to work doing other chores, such as reluctantly evicting people who can't pay the rent on her apartments. The setting is Flint, Michigan, where Curtis's previous award-winning novels, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 and Bud, Not Buddy, also take place, but unlike those books this is a contemporary tale, and one aimed at somewhat older YAs (there are some references to masturbation, for example). Luther's enterprising friend Sparky is dying to get out of Flint, and he has hatched a get-rich-quick scheme, involving a rat and a lawyer whose phone number is 1-800-sue-em-all, in which he embroils Luther. Luther's ancient roommate, Chester X, also hopes to split town, and both urge Luther to escape too, to get away from the domineering and unloving Sarge. But it isn't until Luther wins the science fair, with a project on the dangers of lead paint that attracts media attention and dangerously infuriates the Sarge (she uses it on her properties, to save money), and realizes that theSarge hasn't been putting away money for him for college for him after all, that he decides to break away. But will the Sarge's vicious sidekick find him first? This is a funny, moving, surprising tale, and readers will root for Luther all the way. He is a terrific character, a bright and hardworking young African American teen with a tender heart who aspires to be a philosopher, and Curtis draws the other characters superbly as well. A great read sure to win this fine author more acclaim. (A 2005 ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Random House, Laurel Leaf, 259p., $6.50.. Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Luther T. Farrell is not like most other 15-year-olds living in Flint, Michigan. While he's working hard to win the school science fair for the third year, he is also in charge of one of his mother's group homes and that includes driving the men to rehab and cleaning them up after bathroom accidents. Luther and his mom, a.k.a. Sarge, are financially well off because she's also a slumlord and a loan shark, but the eighth grader is uncomfortable with his life. Christopher Paul Curtis's novel (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004) recounts how this often philosophical youth decides to do what's right and turns the tables on his mother. Luther's best friend Sparky, Shayala his heart's desire, and a wise elderly resident of the group home add humor, wisdom, and a bit of romance to this story that mixes comedy and questions about morality. Michael Boatman's narration has the breezy bounce of inner-city youth, but he also captures the serious undertone of the story. The sound quality is good, and a bit of music adds a hip beat to the opening and closing of the recording. There are a few wacky subplots and some funky characters, but both urban and suburban listeners will connect with the teen appropriate dialogue and admire the way Luther emerges victorious after making tough choices.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Luther's hard-driving mother, "Sarge," has built personal life and financial empire (slum housing, group homes, loan sharking business) through belief in two things: herself and money. Luther is exploited no less than her "clients." At 13, he got a forged driver's license and the responsibility for running The Happy Neighbor Group Home for Men. Years later, Luther's life is a grind of responsibility at the home and striving at school. When Luther's science fair project-on the dangers of lead paint-promises to cost Sarge (whose apartments are painted with it) money and jail time, she ruthlessly cuts him adrift. In a conclusion that avoids contrivance through his comic use of organizational list-making, Luther, who is thoroughly decent despite everything, shrewdly gets all he's owed and declares his independence. In Curtis's hands, this is darkly funny as he deftly paints his Runyonesque cast of characters as broadly as the side of the Buick Riviera driven by Darnell, Sarge's "rent-a-thug." Told in Luther's jivey, colloquial voice, enriched by Curtis's cast of large-hearted survivors, and enlivened by his coruscating style, this is another winner-or, as Luther might say, a "three-peat." (Fiction. 10-16)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Readers Circle Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

“Just a minute, fellas. Hello?”
“Luther?” It was Sparky. He sounded like he’d just run five miles. “Have you looked outside, bruh?” I could hear the wind howling behind him.
“Yeah, where you at?”
“I’m on the phone outside Seven-Eleven. It’s like a hurricane out here!”
“Then why don’t you get inside? Are you coming over?” The 7-Eleven was only a couple of blocks away.
Sparky said, “Uh-uh. I need you to meet me behind Taco Bell.”
“You need what?”
“Seriously! This is my big chance, baby! Before this night is over I’m going to be calling 1-800-SUE-EM-ALL. I finally got someone to sic the big D.O.G. on.” He started barking into the phone.
“Sparky, what are you talking about?”
“I’ma put me a suit in on Taco Bell!”
“Oh, you’re gonna do that old I-found-a-rat-in-my-burrito trick?”
Sparky said, “Please, they peeped out that scam a long time ago, they even do autopsies on the rat if you claim that happened. I got the bomb, baby! But I’m gonna need your help.”
“Uh-uh, Luther, this is for real. I walked by Taco Bell and all them red tiles are lifting up off the roof and knocking the mess out of everything in the parking lot! One went clean through someone’s windshield!”
“Sounds dangerous.”
“Which is why you gotta get down here.”
I said, “Why would I come out on a night like this to watch some roofing tiles crashing into cars . . .” Then I understood. “Now I get it, you want a witness that you got hit by one of those tiles, right?”
“Something like that, but I need a little more.”
“I’m listening.”
“I really do need to get hit, and you’re the only one I can trust to do it right.”
“Aw, no. That ain’t happening!”
“Come on, Luther, I already got one of the tiles set to do it. All you gotta do is kinda tap me in the head, then walk me into Taco Bell and have them call an ambulance.”
“Don’t worry, bruh, you know when I get paid I’ma break a little something off for you.”
“You must be kidding.”
“Luther, don’t make me beg.”
“I can’t do it, Sparky. Besides, you’re cutting into my science fair project time. Plus I gotta put the Crew to bed, that’s going to take at least half an hour.”
Sparky said, “If that’s the best you can do, half an hour then, behind the Taco Bell.”
He said, “I just hope the wind hasn’t died down by then, it’ll be on you if it has. Your half hour could be costing us a whole lotta benjamins, my brother.”
“I’ll see you in half an hour, but this better be quick, I’ma just whack you in the head, then I gotta bounce.”

Sparky didn’t have to worry, by the time I’d settled everyone down and started walking to Taco Bell the wind had even picked up some.
The stop sign on the corner was twisting back and forth in the wind, sounding like a rocket made out of tin cans and duct tape getting ready to blast off. The wind was hot in a way that made you want to close your eyes and tilt your head back and breathe real deep. Or maybe even howl.
Something from the roof of Taco Bell somersaulted through the air, then smashed into the parking lot. Sparky popped out from behind a Dumpster and ran toward me with a tile in his hand.
“Sparky,” I yelled, “this is insane, man, let’s just go home.”
Sparky shook his head and said, “Come on, bruh, hurry up, this ain’t real easy for me, you know.”
I took the reddish-brown clay roofing tile from him. I was surprised how heavy it was. He leaned toward me, closed his eyes tight and showed his teeth.
“Come on, Luther, quit torturing me,” he whined, keeping his teeth clenched. “Do it!”
I shook my head and closed my eyes. I raised the tile about shoulder high, brought it down on his head and felt a little shimmy run up my arm. Sparky was still standing with his eyes squinched shut.
He looked at me. “That’s it?” He brought his hand up, rubbed at the spot where I’d hit him and said, “Man, you gotta be kidding, don’t forget this thing’s supposed to have blowed off a roof, you really gotta knock the snot outta me, bruh.”
I dropped the tile. “This ain’t me, you gotta get someone else.”
Sparky looked hurt. “What? You supposed to be my boy, who else can I trust?”
He picked the tile back up and reached it toward me again. “Remember what we used to say, ‘We’ll have each other’s backs from womb to tomb, you’ll be my boy from birth to earth.’”
What could I say? He was right, we had said that. I took the tile again. It must’ve weighed ten pounds.
The wind was really starting to get serious. The stop sign had stopped shaking and was now whistling and going back and forth like one of those piano metronome things. Two more tiles jumped off the roof and exploded in the parking lot.
“All right, fool, bend your head over.”
I closed my eyes, raised the tile over my head and let it drop on Sparky’s skull. Again my arm shimmied. When I opened my eyes Sparky was looking at me the way you’d look at a kid who brought home all Ds on his report card.
He said, “Man, all you’re doing is giving me a headache! Swing that tile, brother! I bet if I went and got your crusty old mother she wouldn’t have no troubles lighting me up.”
If only he knew. The Sarge would’ve paid big cash to take my place right now. Sparky isn’t one of her favorite people. She would’ve hit him so hard it would’ve knocked his head clean off. I laughed. “Leave my mother out of this.”

Meet the Author

CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS made an outstanding debut in children's literature with The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, which was selected as both Newbery Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book. His second novel, Bud, Not Buddy, is the first book ever to receive both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award. He lives in Canada with his family.

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Bucking the Sarge 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bucking The Sarge was a great book for my 9th grade English class. They enjoyed that it was about something happening in their lifetime. There were parts that were kind of slow, but overall, it was an enjoyable read for them and for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This has an incredibly unique plot. I read it in one day. It drew me in... this plot about kids trying to get money... the author gives smart detaail with everything I ighly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hate this book it stinks. Would give it a big goose egg but I can't :(
Elise Manning More than 1 year ago
Bucking the sarge is great i read it in my 7th grade english i loved it even for a seventh grader !!!!!!!!!!!,!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!*******************************************************-************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I would like to recommend the book Bucking the Sarge, by Christopher Paul Curtis. It is a realistic fiction book about a teenager named Luther T. Farrell. Luther T. lives in a town called Flint and runs sort of a nursing home for men that can¿t live by themselves. His mother, `The Sarge¿, owns many apartments and has a reputation for being ruthless. He also has a best friend named Sparky, King of Get Rich Quick Schemes, and a science fair rival named Shayla 'who he happens to be in love with'. This book is about a scheme of Sparky¿s that went wrong, a science competition with Shayla, and breaking free of the Sarge. One of my favorite scenes is when Sparky ropes Luther into a get-rich-quick scheme. There is a huge storm outside, and Sparky notices that roof tiles are falling off of a Taco Bell¿s roof. He calls up Luther and somehow convinces him that if Luther would just go to the Taco Bell with him and whack him the in head with a roof tile, they could sue Taco Bell. Well, Luther heads on over and clocks Sparky with a terracotta tile. Now, that would be bad enough. But no- some customers had seen them and Sparky and Luther only just escape. I like this scene because it shows some of the humor that appears everywhere throughout the book. I also appreciate the fact that it shows that get-rich-quick schemes are deceitful and often backfire. I would recommend this book because it is a great read about a teenager breaking free of his mother to become who he really wants to be, discovering things about himself along the way. It is funny and heartfelt, qualities I love in a book. It also has many twists in the plot: things are not always 'actually, in this book, almost never' what they seem. However, I should mention that this is not an especially good choice for kids under thirteen it has a couple rather inappropriate parts. All in all, I would rate this book a four-star book, five stars being the best, because it is a book that is both hilarious and serious, something not all authors can get away with.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My personal reading selection that I have just recently read was Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis. This book is about a fourteen year old boy named Luther who, believe it or not, has his own driver¿s license! Luther¿s mother is in charge of a nursing home for elderly men and is a workaholic. His mother¿s job is very demanding so she has to be very strict even toward Luther. Luther refers to her as the Sarge because of her harassing attitude and bizarrely mean attitude. In the book Luther and his friend that goes by the name of Sparky have to put up with a lot of Sarge¿s behavior and many lectures. The boys along with their gang of elderly men they are responsible for have a lot of quarrels throughout the book and are very entertaining to read. In my opinion the book in general wasn¿t that great because of the way the book seemed to flow. It flowed very fast paced and many times I had to revisit some of the pages I had already read. Besides the fast paced flow the book was very surprisingly slow and over detailed. It was very entertaining at times but I wouldn¿t classify this book as a ¿knee slapper¿. I was surprised to see that Christopher Paul Curtis is a Newbery Honor winner because this book in my opinion wasn¿t a Newbery Honor performance.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was utterly disappointed at the content of this novel. Totally inappropriate for 12 & 13 year olds. Which teacher is going to read to their students about a condom waited to be used? Sharing my disappointment is also my students who after reading the 2 previous novels, they felt left down that I did not read it with them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Okay, you have to be a rabid Christopher Paul Curtis fan to give this book a decent review. Bud, Not Buddy was a superior piece of literature. This book is not in the same league. It takes 200 of 259 pages for the action to commence, after too intensive character and plot developments. ...then the ending...very disappointing. Sorry.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Luther T. Farrell has lived all his life working for his tyrant mother who he nicknames 'The Sarge.' She tells him all his wages are going into his college fund, and what can he do but to believe her? I first saw this book at the Nat'l Book Festival in D.C. but did not buy it. Then I encountered it at the bookstore, but since it was hardcover, i thought, :forget it:. then, i received as a present from my english teacher... and it didnt turn out to be that bad!! though some parts confused me, like the period of time between the second and third science fair. I thought I'd either lost my mind or the book missed out information... anyways, it was a fairly good book nonetheless. recommended fer teenagers and young adults.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis was an awesome book. In this book, Luther T. Farrell is the main character whose mother is a slum lord. She owns many houses in their town of Flint, Michigan. Luther¿s best friend is Sparky. Throughout this book, Sparky tried to come up with crazy schemes to make a lot of money fast. He does this because he hates Flint and wants to get out. One of the most interesting things about this book is Luther¿s on his arch enemy, Shayla Patrick. Luther and Shayla compete in the science fair each year. Every year they always have the best two projects but Luther has always won. This year however, Shayla has a great project and is probably going to win. Luther¿s project was about the dangers of lead paint. On the day of the presentation Luther was informed that his mother would be at the ceremony. Luther thought that it would be great. Luther and Shayla tied for first and then had to present their projects. After Luther had presented his project the mayor told everyone that the search would be tripled in Flint for the search of lead paint in houses. Luther knew that this was bad because the Sarge used leaded paint in her houses because she got it cheap. After the presentations were over, she told Luther that he had four days to leave the house. Before Luther left he took $50,000 in cash and his mothers bank books and went on a spending spree. After he was done he drove to Florida where he would be living, far away from his horrible life in Flint, Michigan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was boring all it said was bla bla bla bla itwas a good book though
stephanie robert More than 1 year ago
this book is so hilarious.