Doing Time: Notes from the Undergrad

Doing Time: Notes from the Undergrad

by Rob Thomas

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Each student at Robert E. Lee High School is required to perform two hundred hours of community service in order to graduate. Their responses to the assignment are as varied as the organizations for which they volunteer....


Each student at Robert E. Lee High School is required to perform two hundred hours of community service in order to graduate. Their responses to the assignment are as varied as the organizations for which they volunteer....

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Returning to the scene of Slave Day, Robert E. Lee High School, Thomas's collection of thinly connected stories (all of the students are fulfilling their school's community service requirement) barely scrapes the surface of how work affects young people. Thomas relies on hip lingo and details from movies, television and music to carry his narratives forward, which makes his handling of such serious subjects as neglect and abuse within families, racial discrimination, teen pregnancy and poverty seem off-handed. Confronted with people who are economically disadvantaged ("Blue Santa"), bereaved ("Loss of Pet"), badly injured ("Half a Mind") or just rude and obscene ("Cheatin' Heart"), these teenaged volunteers respond, in most cases, as caring individuals who are just discovering the painful areas of life. While the characters and language ring true, descriptions of, for example, the treatment young women receive at pregnancy counseling centers, offer one-sided perspectives that belie the complicated issues involved. In addition, some explicit language (e.g., "one of us'll be holdin' a Shania Twain poster one-handed in the little boys' room," a DJ says in "Cheatin' Heart") may be too strong or incomprehensible for readers in the lower part of the recommended age range. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Leslie Julian
This is the kind of book that grabs you and tosses you around a bit. It has echoes of Catcher in the Rye in its rough and tumble tone. Although it deals with real life issues, like abandonment and loss, I fear that it remains ultimately a dark and cynical look at the world. With extensive use of foul language and negative messages, I am reluctant to recommend this book to anyone under the age of 17.
VOYA - Randy Brough
Seniors at Robert E. Lee High School in Deerfield, Texas, are required to complete two hundred hours of community service in order to graduate. College students enrolled in Dr. Shiring's Social Work 322 class are given the assignment of evaluating the seniors' projects. Randall's cases: a volunteer at a convalescent hospital, a food drive helper, a literacy tutor, a public library clerk, bowl-a-thon participants, a dj's assistant, a receptionist at an adoptive services agency, a Santa's elf for needy children, and a director of a play for at-risk junior high kids. But those are merely the job titles. In the process of fulfilling their obligations, the seniors become involved with people with problems, many of which cannot be solved in two hundred hours. For instance, Laura, the convalescent hospital volunteer, falls in love with a young man head-injured in a motorcycle accident who may never fully recover. Fiona, the library aide, happens onto a meeting of people whose pets have died, and she is sobered by a glamorous classmate's wrenching recollection of the murder of her beloved poodle. And Teesha's Thanksgiving deliveries conclude with a stop at her own home. All of the seniors mature as a result of their experiences, some more dramatically than others. Without exception, all are real. The author is noted for his sharp delineation of teen language and mood, and this powerful book will add to his reputation as an astute chronicler of teen culture. In an interview in the June 1997 VOYA Thomas remarks that he feels compelled to include some bit of truth in his books. Doing Time is full of truth... and humor, and pain, and insight, and marvelous writing. It will be on a lot of next year's lists. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up--A collection of 10 loosely knit vignettes that focus on the theme of volunteering. In "Shacks from Mansions," Randall's college social work class has been assigned to report on community service projects completed by local high school students as a requirement for graduation. Randall reminisces about the time he was on the receiving end of one such project and a well-known professional football player befriended him through a Big Brothers program. About the time Randall began to develop a bond, his big brother completed his court-imposed number of hours and disappeared from his life. The remaining stories examine issues regarding community service, including attitudes and motivations. Thomas challenges readers to look beneath the surface of these typical teenagers and realize that they are rarely the people they first seem to be. In "Blue Santa," one high school do-gooder is the president of the Key Club and heads up a Christmas toys project. The student is motivated only by dreams of the recognition the club will receive. On the other hand, Dwight, in "The Laser," rarely lives up to the expectations of his school superintendent father, yet he goes far beyond the service requirements to help a Mexican man pass an employment test. The stories are well-written, interesting, provocative, and humorous, and often have surprise endings. Teachers will find them useful to stimulate classroom discussion. The characters accurately reflect contemporary young adults and the dialogue is both realistic and amusing.--Tim Rausch, Crescent View Middle School, Sandy, UT
Kirkus Reviews
From Thomas (Slave Day, p. 306, etc.), an attempt to draw a cross-section of humanity from a group of high-school students performing community service.

In the first chapter, as part of a college course, Randall is assigned to follow up on nine high-school seniors who had to do community service projects to graduate, by interviewing them and the participants in their projects. He's a skeptic after his own experience on the receiving end of someone else's community-service project a decade earlier. The next nine chapters are more like short stories, each one a self-contained first-person account by one of the nine seniors: Some perform their service with honor, some with cynicism. Thomas covers a lot of territory and demands that readers keep track of several characters and activities; each narrator establishes himself or herself, describes the mission, learns a lesson, or hits a defining moment, then checks out, without a reappearance of Randall for perspective or hindsight—which leaves the book's premise, and readers, dangling. It's a promising work—it just doesn't feel finished.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
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1 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Rob Thomas is the creator and executive producer of the television series Veronica Mars, He is also a co-creator and executive producer of the cable television series Party Down. In addition to his television work, Thomas is the author of five young adult books for Simon & Schuster including Rats Saw God, Slave Day, Satellite Down and Doing Time: Notes From the Undergrad. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Katie, daughter Greta and son Hank. Visit him at

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