Hoppergrass

Overview

It is 1969, and Bowser has arrived at The Hill, an institution for delinquent teenage boys. No one is doing much to protect the boys who find themselves there, but Bowser doesn’t expect to stay long. He thinks he might be crazy (and others agree), so he’ll probably be off to the nuthouse soon.

When one of the boys is killed in an accident and it looks like Bowser’s friend Nose is going to be made a scapegoat for the death, it’s up to Bowser, ...

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Hoppergrass

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Overview

It is 1969, and Bowser has arrived at The Hill, an institution for delinquent teenage boys. No one is doing much to protect the boys who find themselves there, but Bowser doesn’t expect to stay long. He thinks he might be crazy (and others agree), so he’ll probably be off to the nuthouse soon.

When one of the boys is killed in an accident and it looks like Bowser’s friend Nose is going to be made a scapegoat for the death, it’s up to Bowser, crazy or not, to stand up for the truth.

With language that combines the gritty and the truly graceful, Chris Carlton Brown’s debut novel is heartbreaking and unforgettable.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for HOPPERGRASS:

"Bowser's voice rings true as a troubled boy looking for a change of luck and scenery...Readers will not be bored by Bowser's tale."—USA Today

"Solid and serious yet invitingly readable, this will suck kids into Bowser's world, and they'll be rooting for him to defeat both his enemies and his own demons."—BCCB

"If Mark Twain had written a murder mystery set in an interracial reform school in Virginia, in the late 1960s, Hoppergrass would be it."—William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition

The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books
Delinquent boys fourteen and older came to Belmont School for Boys, known to us as the Hill." That's where Bowser's landed after a spate of delinquency ("I knew I was guilty as hell. I just couldn't come up with the right story of exactly what it was I was guilty of"), and he's learning that everybody there has a story. It's Virginia in 1969, and tensions between black and white residents are inevitable; however, Bowser, who's white, moves through staged enmity to tacit friendship with Nose, one of the tougher black kids there. When Nose becomes the scapegoat after staffer negligence results in the grisly death of one of the boys, Bowser takes it upon himself to find out the truth and save Nose from doing hard time. Bowser's narration, interspersed with the tales from other characters, possesses the rich authenticity of a memoir; he himself is credible as a kid who, quick glimpses at his past suggest, is haunted with guilt about his previous abandonment of a buddy and unconsciously seeks expiation by being Nose's champion now. The picture of the institution generally avoids movie-unbelievable extremes, and it's this fact that this isn't some Dickensian hell that makes Nose's doom so tragic. The paramount achievement, though, is Bowser's narrative voice-there's a Caulfieldesque orality to his narration, appropriate in a work so focused on storytelling, and he's a touching blend of dazed and perceptive, numb and compassionate; Brown demonstrates a masterful hand behind the informal tale-telling but never displays his artistry at the expense of his narrator. Yet this isn't simply an inward-looking tale, as there's plent y of action and suspense in Bowser's detective work and some seriousgrimness in what he uncovers (forced prostitution with the residents of the girls' institution). Solid and serious yet invitingly readable, this will suck kids into Bowser's world, and they'll be rooting for him to defeat both his enemies and his own demons. DS
Booklist
Fifteen-year-old Bowser is in trouble again. First it was the county jail, then the Diagnostic Center, and now it's the Hill-an institution for juvenile delinquents. As tends to happen in barracks, despite the deadening routines, mighty bonds are formed, in this case between characters adorned with colorful nicknames like Babybird and Snicklesnort. But most surprising is Bowser's friendship with Nose, a scrappy black kid who outwardly pretends to be Bowser's archrival. The crossing of racial lines is one of Brown's recurrent themes, and though his light touch is appreciated, it often feels as if the plot would unfurl the same way in 2009 as it does in 1969. Still, the book is quite readable; especially well handled is Bowser's maybe/maybe-not schizophrenia. The story really takes off in the second half, following the suspicious death of one of Bowser's buddies, when the plot makes a surprisingly dark turn-pornography and prostitution are involved. Though many of the adult characters are unrealistic, they are deliciously evil and readers will find them deserving of the revenge heading their way. Grades 7-10.
—Daniel Kraus
VOYA - Eileen Kuhl
Bowser is angry, unrepentant, and maybe even a little crazy when he is sent temporarily to a juvenile detention facility in Virginia in the late 1960s. Readers are introduced to a variety of volatile personalities and unlucky inmates in Hoppergrass. In a measured oral storytelling fashion, inmates describe the events leading to their arrests and comment on camp rivalries, friendships, and corrupt guards. Bowser befriends his cellmate, Evan, a weak and vulnerable boy who falls prey to bullying inmates and the administration. When Evan is killed in a supposed accident, Bowser attempts to unravel the mystery and discover the person responsible, but the guards initiate a cover-up. Readers will be frustrated by the manipulation and lies surrounding the death. The author successfully portrays the strong sense of the hopelessness that the teens feel in this controlling, unjust atmosphere especially when they realize that there is no adult to whom they can turn. Ultimately Bowser finds a sympathetic adult who supports him when he makes a rash decision to accost the perpetrators himself. Most characters are one dimensional, and the dialogue is stilted, not very realistic, and filled with unusual slang. The author also includes several social issues dealing with race relations and sexual abuse, which readers will understand, but the climate of the '60s might not be familiar. In the end, Bowser is triumphant in living through his sentence with his body and spirit intact. Readers who enjoyed Boot Camp by Todd Strasser (Simon & Schuster, 2007/VOYA December 2007) or Rash by Pete Hautman (Simon & Schuster, 2006/VOYA June 2006) will appreciate this tale of angry but sympathetic young teens.Reviewer: Eileen Kuhl
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up–In Virginia in 1969, 15-year-old Bowser gets sent to the Hill, an institution for troubled and delinquent teens. There he meets Evan, Babybird, and Snicklesnort, three other white boys who seem indistinguishable from one another. After Bowser gets into a fight with a black boy, Nose, the two develop a rivalry that becomes a friendship. The action finds a focus about halfway through, when Evan is killed in a tractor accident. Shorty Nub, the sadistic staff member who was in charge of the work crew, pressures the boys into lying about the incident. When the administration seems poised to blame Nose, Bowser investigates, and his discovery that Shorty Nub is running a child prostitution ring makes Bowser’s quest to expose the truth more pressing and dangerous. Despite its edgy elements, the novel is off-putting and confusing. Though he narrates the book, Bowser doesn’t always make his motivations and thought processes clear, and readers will be unsure how to react to his unsettled mental state and his sometimes-disturbing behaviors. Throughout the novel, various characters tell stories that are presented in a different font. Though these pieces highlight the power of storytelling, the sudden shifts in the narrative perspective rob the novel of its immediacy. Symbols, including the titular “hoppergrass” (a grasshopper in a jar), recur throughout, but are not well integrated into the plot. Readers will be turned off by the slow pacing, shallow characters, and lack of emotional resonance.–Megan Honig, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Awaiting a psychiatric evaluation at a rural juvenile detention site for his part in a botched robbery, Bowser forms tentative friendships with several of his fellow inmates, including an African-American teen nicknamed Nose. When another friend dies while at the facility, Bowser defends Nose's innocence, while alienating his companions and clashing with the authorities. With a drawling voice that discourages all but the most determined readers, Brown spins a literary mess, with a directionless narrative, needless conceits and an unsatisfactory conclusion. A typeface switch between the ongoing narrative and characters' reminiscences is more affectation than compelling device, and the folksy tone of the interruptions (often and troublingly in dialect) conflicts with the grittiness of the tale. Racial tension crops up occasionally-the year is 1969-but even during those moments, the tension remains slack. The resolution is halfhearted, as the questions of abuse, neglect and sanity are unresolved, and readers are left to extrapolate meaning from facet-less characters and murky writing. There is undeniable literary promise here, but it would have done better to bake through a couple more drafts. (Historical fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805088793
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 4/14/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRIS CARLTON BROWN was a reporter at the Richmond News Leader, built a business career in East Asia, and currently teaches reading to children with learning disabilities. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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