From the Publisher
* "Both haunting and harrowing, the book deserves a wide readership, discussion and debate."—Booklist, starred review
“A disturbing and provocative novel.”—KLIATT
"Vivid, distressing, and all too real…The multiple points of view create empathy for a wide range of characters and enhance the book's in-your-face reality. Important, insightful, and chilling."—Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like Virginia Walter in Making Up Megaboy, Strasser (How I Changed My Life) explores the psyche of adolescents who use handguns to violent ends. Unfortunately, the format used here detracts from the central drama--10th-graders Gary Searle and Brendan Lawlor holding their classmates hostage with firearms and bombs. A portentous author's note ("One of the things I dislike most about guns in our society is that... they rob children of what we used to think of as a childhood") prefaces an excerpt from Gary's suicide note, which is followed by comments from one Denise Shipley, who is studying journalism at the state university and returns to Middletown High "determined not to leave again until I understood what had happened there." The bulk of the novel is comprised of quotes Denise has collected from, among others, the two 10th-graders' parents, teachers and classmates, including nemesis Sam Flach, a football player whose knees they shatter with bullets. These quotes, however, seem arbitrarily arranged into sections; scattered and disconnected, the quotes build little momentum and the overall effect is numbing. Running along the foot of many of the pages are distracting excerpts from the media, Internet postings and statistics from unattributed sources (e.g., "The number of kids killed by firearms has quadrupled in the past ten years"). The revelation in Denise's closing note (that she is Gary's stepsister) and the author's "Final Thoughts" ("It will be your job to keep these ideas alive") provide a heavy-handed ending that may be more off-putting than eye-opening. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
The author explores the psyche of adolescents who use handguns to violent ends, as two 10th-graders hold their classmates hostage. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
To quote KLIATT's July 2000 review of the hardcover edition: Author of many popular YA novels, Strasser tackles a disturbing and all-too-timely topic here—school shootings. At Middletown High School, the football players are treated like royalty. They get away with taunting and brutalizing outcasts like Gary and Brendan, close friends united in their anger at the treatment they receive. Gary is sad and feels helpless; Brendan is outraged, and keenly feels the injustice of the other students' intolerance. We learn about the school culture and Gary's and Brendan's lives through the voices of their peers, their parents, their teachers and the boys' writing, in brief quotes. Boxed quotes from published sources offer statistics and commentary on school violence. When a football player named Sam beats up Brendan at a party, events spiral out of control. Gary and Brendan's revenge fantasies turn into reality as Gary builds bombs and Brendan steals guns from a neighbor. The climax comes as the boys hold their classmates hostage at a school dance. The evening of terror ends bloodily when Sam gets shot in the knees, and Gary shoots himself. Brendan is jumped by some of the football players, who beat him into a coma. And everyone tries to figure out why this tragedy occurred. Like the characters he provides voices for so convincingly, Strasser hasn't got the answer. But he does offer some common-sense suggestions in a section called "Final Thoughts": schools should teach respect for others, and have "zero tolerance for teasing"; semiautomatic weapons should be outlawed and ownership of handguns and ammunition should be restricted to the military and law enforcement agencies; and "students'achievements off the field [should be] valued as highly as those on the field." Strasser includes chilling chronologies of school shootings and a bibliography of print sources and Web sites on the topic. This is a disturbing and provocative novel for anyone who wonders how the events at Columbine could have happened, and how such horrors could be avoided. KLIATT Codes: JSA*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse, 208p. bibliog.,
Gary and Brendan, two dissatisfied teenagers, strike out angrily at the cool, popular high school teens who have snubbed them. Dressed in camouflage and ski masks and carrying semiautomatic weapons, they burst into a crowded gymnasium full of students and teachers attending a school dance. Forcing their hostages to lie on the floor, they spray the ceiling with bullets. The only teacher who tries to resist them is shot in the chest. With cold deliberation, they shoot Sam, a football player, in both knees. Allison, Gary's friend, courageously prevents Sam from bleeding to death. Emotionally overwrought, Gary shoots himself in the head. Distracted by his friend's suicide, Brendan is tackled, restrained, and nearly beaten to death by outraged male students. By the last chapter, Brendan is in a coma with irreversible brain damage, Sam never will play football again, and the community struggles to analyze the events leading up to this terrible tragedy. In the wake of the Columbine shootings, this subject is certainly timely, but the text lacks immediacy. Presented as a series of interviews with community members and high school students, the format divorces the reader from the action. Characterization does not always ring true, creating cardboard cutouts that represent violent teenagers. The book opens with a graphic medical description of Gary's suicide, but the early chapters covering Brendan and Gary's childhood drag, as the reader awaits the coming tragedy. It is unfortunate that a book dealing with such a serious subject becomes boring at times. Young adults might be tempted to skim the slow parts and skip ahead to the ending. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects;Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Simon & Schuster, 128p, $16. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Nancy K. Wallace
SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)
Two troubled teenage boys terrorize their classmates at a high school dance. Armed with semiautomatic rifles and handguns, the boys take revenge on the students who have teased and tormented them for years. The result, of course, is violent injury and death. Related in journalistic style, this chilling novel consists of quotes and anecdotes from classmates, parents, teachers, and friends of the victims, as well as excerpts from the gunmen's suicide notes. In bold print, footnotestyle, is factual information, and statistics about guns and violence in the United States. For example, in 1996, handguns killed 9,390 people in the U.S., compared with 15 in Japan, 30 in Great Britain, and 106 in Canada. Frightening in its realistic portrayal of teen angst gone haywire, disturbing in its unveiling of cold hard facts about guns and violence, this book will give readers on all sides of the gun issue an indelible and haunting memory. 2000, Simon & Schuster, Ages 12 up, $16.00. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Two boys go on a shooting rampage at Middletown High School; one commits suicide, the other is beaten unconscious before he gets the chance. It happens in the gymnasium, not the library, but the scenario will sound familiar. The story unfolds in a series of interviews, after the fact, conducted by a college student who reveals her relationship to the case at the end of the book. She tries to piece together the puzzle of the tragedy by gathering various individuals' recollections about the boys beginning in grade school. Gary was very bright, quiet, and had a weight problem. Brendan was thin, defensive, and quick to anger. As the chapters move from middle school up, readers hear from classmates and teachers that these boys were outcasts-ostracized and bullied by their peers-and potential trouble. They remain flat, two-dimensional characters, and what their suicide notes say and how the events play out come as no surprise. Statistics, quotes, and facts related to actual incidents of school violence appear in dark print at the bottom of the pages. An appendix includes a chronology of school shootings in the United States, the author's own treatise on gun control, and places to get more information. While this book lacks the literary merit of Avi's Nothing But the Truth (Orchard, 1991) or Rob Thomas's Slave Day (S & S, 1997), it will satisfy empathetic teenage readers and might succeed as a springboard for a class discussion.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Vivid, distressing, and all too real, Strasser's (Close Call, 1999, etc.) latest work of fiction explores the minds and hearts of a group of students, parents, teachers, and community members whose lives are forever altered by a tragic school shooting. After years of harassment and casual cruelty from the football heroes at Middletown High that is tacitly endorsed by adults in the school, two disturbed, volatile boys arm themselves to the teeth and storm their school dance looking for payback. Although the book's main messageif these kids couldn't easily procure weapons, this tragedy could have been avertedcomes through loud and clear it is also a denunciation of the value system of an entire community, a community that allowedeven encourageda select few to rule by bullying. As the stepsister of one of the gunmen said, "Violence comes in many formsguns, fists, and words of hate and contempt. Unless we change the way we treat others in school and out, there will only be more, and more horrible tragedies." The book is not written like a traditional novel; it's a pastiche of various voices, and the reader pieces the story together through interviews, diary entries, online conversations, and even suicide notes. Despite the fact that the cast is large and it may be difficult for young readers to keep track of who's who, the multiple points of view create empathy for a wide range of characters and enhance the book's in-your-face reality. Important, insightful, and chilling. (Fiction. 12-14)
Read an Excerpt
Around 10 P.M. on Friday, February 27, Gary Searle died in the gymnasium at Middletown High School. After the bullet smashed through the left side of his skull and tore into his brain, he probably lived for ten to fifteen seconds.
The brain is a fragile organ suspended in a liquid environment. Not only does a bullet destroy whatever brain tissue is in its path, but the shock waves from the impact severely jar the entire organ, ripping apart millions of delicate structures and connections. In the seconds that follow, the brain swells with blood and other fluids. The parts of the brain that control breathing and heartbeat stop. One doctor described it to me as "an earthquake in the head."
At the moment of Gary's death I was in the library at the state university, where I was a sophomore studying journalism. As soon as I heard the news, I went home to Middletown, determined not to leave until I understood what had happened there.
Returning to Middletown was like stepping into a thick fog of bewilderment, fury, agony, and despair. For weeks I staggered through it, searching out other lost, wandering souls. Some were willing to talk to me. Others spoke because they felt a need to defend themselves even though no one had pointed an accusing finger at them. Some even sought me out because they wanted to talk. As if speaking about it was a way of trying to figure it out, of beginning the long, painful process of grieving and moving ahead.
Some refused to speak because it must have been too painful. For others, I suspect it was because they had learned something about themselves that they were still struggling to accept or to conceal.
I spoke to everyone who would speak to me. In addition I studied everything I could find on the many similar incidents that have occurred in other schools around our country in the past thirty years.
The story you are about to read is really two stories. One is about what happened here in Middletown. The other is the broader tale of what is happening all around our country in a world of schools and guns and violence that has forever changed the place I once called home. The quotes and facts from other incidents are in a different-style print. What happened in Middletown is in plain print.
This, then, is the story of what I learned. It is told in many voices, in words far more eloquent and raw than any I could have thought of on my own. It is a story of heartbreak and fear and regret. But mostly it is a warning. Violence comes in many forms guns, fists, and words of hate and contempt. Unless we change the way we treat others in school and out, there will only be more and more horrible tragedies.
Copyright © 2000 by Todd Strasser