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Project X: A Novel

Project X: A Novel

4.5 32
by Jim Shepard

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In the wilderness of junior high, Edwin Hanratty is at the bottom of the food chain. His teachers find him a nuisance. His fellow students consider him prey. And although his parents are not oblivious to his troubles, they can't quite bring themselves to fathom the ruthless forces that demoralize him daily.

Sharing in these schoolyard indignities is his only


In the wilderness of junior high, Edwin Hanratty is at the bottom of the food chain. His teachers find him a nuisance. His fellow students consider him prey. And although his parents are not oblivious to his troubles, they can't quite bring themselves to fathom the ruthless forces that demoralize him daily.

Sharing in these schoolyard indignities is his only friend, Flake. Branded together as misfits, their fury simmers quietly in the hallways, classrooms, and at home, until an unthinkable idea offers them a spectacular and terrifying release.

From Jim Shepard, one of the most enduring and influential novelists writing today, comes an unflinching look into the heart and soul of adolescence. Tender and horrifying, prescient and moving, Project X will not easily be forgotten.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
As in his short stories, in Project X he lays down innocuous sentence after innocuous sentence until you find, to your surprise, your heart lurching. This novel should not be dismissed as an afterthought to Vernon God Little because it is, in every particular, a considerably better book. — Stephen Metcalf
Publishers Weekly
This engrossing novel gives the overworked subject of Columbine-style school massacres an unusually subtle and affecting treatment. Shepard (Nosferatu; Battling Against Castro; etc.) follows the travails of Edwin Hanratty, a misfit stuck at the bottom of the ruthless eighth-grade pecking order ("It's a big shitpile with everybody shitting downward so you want to be as high as possible"). Beaten up and mocked by bullies, disliked by his teachers and at loggerheads with his exasperated parents, he lives a nightmare of loneliness and anxiety with only his even more isolated friend, Flake, to cling to. Together, the two boys feed each other's wounded, sullen disgruntlement and edge toward vengeance as the only salve for their overwhelming sense of impotence and humiliation. Shepard makes these miserable characters sympathetic and even funny (" `Suck my dog's chew toy, how's that?' he goes. `Your mother's still busy with it,' I tell him"), but avoids easy sociological explanations for their predicament. The two boys, who have only their alienation to cling to, are often snotty and off-putting, and bat away all helping hands; there are also hints of deeper pathologies. With a pitch-perfect feel for the flat, sardonic, "I-go-then-he-goes" language of disaffected teens, Shepard explores how, in two disturbed minds, the normal adolescent obsessions with competence, mastery and status take on disastrous proportions, and the search for social belonging becomes a life-or-death matter. (Jan. 30) FYI: Vintage is publishing Shepard's Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories (which includes one new and more than a dozen uncollected stories) simultaneously in paperback. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Edwin and Flake are beginning their eighth-grade year in junior high. They are considered outcasts among their fellow students. They constantly get into trouble and are teased and picked on by a pair of students named Hogan and Weensie. Their parents appear to be completely oblivious to the problems facing their own children. The story culminates at the point when Edwin and Flake are discussing the best way to seek revenge on their classmates and teachers—a type of revenge that has become frighteningly apparent in society. Edwin constantly struggles with himself and the decision that he is facing. He ultimately makes the wrong choice and must watch as his best friend takes a horrible fall. Shepard does an excellent job of portraying these two troubled youths. The reader will begin to feel sorry for Edwin and then cheer him on. Edwin's feelings of depression and lethargy are problems that many young adults are facing today. Students who feel alienated from their peers will definitely identify with Edwin and Flake. Shepard uses adult language and mentions several adult situations throughout the book, making it better suited to more mature readers. It is a poignant novel that needs to be made available to young adults. VOYA Codes 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2004, Knopf, 164p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Jonatha Masters
Library Journal
Shepard's previous novels (Nosferatu) and his collection of short stories (Battling Against Castro) offer sundry voices of psychologically alienated characters. Here, his narrator is Edwin Hanratty, an extremely alienated eighth grader with a preternatural vocabulary and a decidedly "bad attitude" about everything in his suburban New England environs. Despised and routinely pummeled by the other kids at school, Edwin finds that his only solace is his best friend, Flake, who also has serious psychosocial problems and a propensity for creatively foul language. The outcasts hatch a horrific revenge scheme against their classmates, with predictably catastrophic consequences. A far more interesting fiction treatment of Columbine-type tragedies is D.B.C. Pierre's Booker Prize-winning debut novel, Vernon God Little. Project X is appropriate for larger adult fiction collections.-Mark Andr Singer, Mechanics' Inst. Lib., San Francisco Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-It's the first day of eighth grade and Edwin Hanratty's only acceptable pair of pants is in the wash. He sticks out as the kid on the bus in shorts; his one friend, Flake, has a different lunch period; and he is late for class because he can't get his locker open. To spare himself further humiliation, he won't tell his teacher his reason for being late; when he's asked to apologize to the class for wasting their time, he talks back and gets detention. And this is a school with a banner in the entrance that states, "LEAVE NO CHILD UNSUCCESSFUL." Flake and Edwin are often bullied; at other times, they have the horrible feeling of being completely invisible to their classmates. Flake is even more alienated than Edwin and hatches a revenge plan involving guns that they call "project x." Disaster looms. The world according to Edwin, who narrates with wry observations and a strong sense of irony, is bleak, and there isn't much to feel good about. His irreverence makes matters worse, but it's his vulnerability that sweeps readers into the downward spiral of his and Flake's world. Shepard treats his main characters with compassion as he depicts the perils of middle school. The vivid dialogue is sprinkled with profanity and is movingly expressive. This heartbreaking and wrenching novel will leave teens with plenty of questions and, hopefully, some answers.-Susanne Bardelson, formerly at Arvada Public Library, CO Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The recent school shootings that have lodged in the American consciousness as a recurring dark nightmare inspire a powerful fictional counterpart in Shepard's vivid, frightening sixth novel. The narrator is 14-year-old Edwin Hanratty, an underachieving eighth-grader whose studied disrespect for all things adult and eloquent foul mouth instantly remind us of Salinger's Holden Caulfield. "I'm the kid you think about when you want to make yourself feel better," he ruefully confides. Indeed, everything in his life is either irritant or disappointment. Teachers and older classmates are out to get him; girls simultaneously attract and annoy him. Five-year-old brother Gus asks too many questions. His mom smothers him with understanding, while his college-teacher dad affects the sangfroid of a sarcastic disciplinarian. An elderly "pervert" in a car is stalking Edwin and his best (make that only) friend Roddy (a.k.a. "Flake"); worse, a pushy sixth-grader, Hermie, wants to hang with them. Shepard's grasp of the roiling, unstable psychology of adolescence couldn't be sharper, and he leads us skillfully through his protagonists' embattled days, until the one when Flake shows Edwin his father's guns, and begins to hatch the plan that Edwin (a dreamy kid whose random drawings express fantasies of theoretical violence) comes to think of as their "Project X." This spare narrative is fleshed out with deft foreshadowings (e.g., a lamebrained plot to infect their school's ventilation system with toxic "bug powder") and mordantly amusing vignettes, such as a confrontation with Hermie's "enemy" during which Flake and Edwin identify themselves as Ed Gein and Richard Speck. The climax is a swift, stunning chaosof uncoordinated actions and responses, in which Flake fulfills his sociopathic dreams appallingly, and Edwin-eternally the kid who never finishes what he starts-silently despairs "I'm a joke . . . a house burning down from the inside out." A story "ripped from the headlines" and transformed into a bitter, gemlike work of art. (See above.)

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries
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Read an Excerpt

First day of FS and where are my good green pants? In the wash. I have one pair of pants that aren’t clown pants and they’re in the wash. They haven’t been washed all summer but today, this morning, they’re in the wash. It’s too cold for cargoes and everything else in my drawer is Queer Nation, and sure enough I’m the only one on the bus in shorts. “Scorcher, isn’t it?” a ninth-grader asks when he goes by my locker. I’m standing there like I’m modeling beachwear. Kids across the hall chuckle and point. I almost head home right then.

“FS, man,” Flake says when he sees my face.

“I can’t take it,” I tell him. “It’s like, twenty minutes, and I can’t take it.”

“Look at your face,” he says, and he has to laugh. He doesn’t mean it in a bad way.

I put my head on my hands in my locker and try to tear the shelf off the wall.

“FS,” he says. At least our first period classes are near each other.

“FS,” I tell him back. We don’t even have homeroom together, though they told us over the summer we would. FS is fuckin’ school. We argue over who thought of it.

My homeroom teacher has a big banner up on the bulletin board that says welcome to eighth grade! Underneath it there’s a sign that says leave no child unsuccessful and a handout for “eight ways of being smart.”

In the doorway of first-period English my feet like freeze. I can’t even get into the room. I will not fucking do this, I think to myself. “What?” the English teacher says.

We’re not in the same gym class, either. And his is fourth period and the first day stuff runs long, so there I am in the cafeteria without him. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, I go to myself, like some god’ll say, “Oh sorry, Hanratty, you want your only friend? I’ll send him along.”

And who’s there: Hogan, Weensie, and all the other buttwipes who are always after me. The kid from Darien we call Dickhead who beat me with a plank last spring. He pulled it from his tree house, and his friends held me down. Flake said when he saw my back that I was lucky there were no nails in it.

“Look who’s watching his figure,” the kid goes. I have like one milk pint on my tray.

“Eat me,” I tell him. My eyes are tearing up and I want to pull them out and pound each of them flat on the tray.

“You’re not sittin’ on this side,” the kid says.

“I’ll sit where I want,” I tell him. But I stand there and then head across the room away from him. I want to set fire to every single fixture and chair and window and crappy water-stained ceiling tile in this cafeteria. I can never eat anything here. Just taking a sip of water makes me want to hurl.

I’d fight if it was just him. But he’s got eight thousand friends. Every asshole in the school is his friend.

I’m standing there with my tray. Pint of milk and a Rice Krispies Treat in a little dish. Every table’s worse than the one next to it. It’s the worst feeling in the world.

When you’re standing there in the middle of the floor with no one to eat with, there are about four kids who don’t look at you. The cafeteria holds three hundred.

“Nice shorts,” somebody says.

Even if you don’t eat, you have to just stay until lunch is over anyway. There’s a spot next to a kid from Latvia or Lithuania or something who smells. She has her hair moussed and smashed onto one side of her head like she fell asleep in tree sap. She showed up last year. She has fewer friends than Flake and me. And we only have each other.

“Is this seat taken?” I go.

“I yev a fren coming,” she says.

I end up next to a girl who has to be the most beautiful person in her zip code. The rest of the table is all her friends. One of them I know from grammar school.

“This is a S.M.I.L.E. meeting,” the one I know tells me. She shows me her folder: Students Making an Impact Locally and Everywhere. I eat my Rice Krispies Treat.

“We could sponsor a child,” one girl goes.

“For a year?” somebody says. “Well, what would you do?” the first girl goes. “Sponsor one for a week?”

They talk about a car wash. After a while they quiet down and I realize they’re looking at me.

“You know who Kel Mitchell is?” the beautiful girl asks me.

“What?” I go. I switch my milk and Rice Krispies Treat on the tray. I never know what to do with my hands.

“You heard of Kel Mitchell?” she says.

When I keep looking at her, she says about me to her friends, “He’s not a random guy.”

“He’s a random guy,” one of them says. “He counts.”

It’s some kind of bet. “Yeah, I know who he is,” I go. “He’s the guy on that thing.”

They’re looking at me like they found a little lizard asleep on the table. “What thing?” one of them says.

“That thing,” I go. My Krispies Treat’s all sticky. I can’t think of anything, but I’m not giving them the satisfaction. “You know, that thing on cable.”

Their faces look like I may have hit it. The beautiful girl goes, “You are so bluffing.”

“Mr. Hanratty,” my fifth period social studies teacher says in front of the whole class. I haven’t even sat down yet. “You going to be favoring us with more of your particular brand of sullenness this year?”

I write my name on the inside of the 20th Century Civilizations cover: E. Hanratty.

“What are you shaking your head about?” he wants to know.

I’m not shaking my head about anything, I tell him.

He asks if I’m calling him a liar.

“I’m not calling you a liar,” I tell him.

He says he’d like me to apologize to my classmates for wasting everybody’s time at the beginning of the semester.

I apologize to them. Kids snicker. “Don’t let it happen again,” a kid behind me murmurs.

“We’re going to be concentrating this year on Innovators,” the teacher says. “Men and women of the twentieth century who found new ways of addressing society’s problems.” A kid in the last row makes a farting noise. The kids around him make snorty and strangled little sounds.

“Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King,” the teacher goes. “Mr. Hanratty? Any names to add to our list?”

“Richard Speck,” I go.

So on day one I get detention. The secretary outside the vice principal’s office congratulates me on being the first kid called in this year.

I don’t see Flake for three straight periods.

“What’s the matter with you?” a girl asks me on the stairs.

I have to call home when detention’s over, since the buses all left an hour ago. My mother comes to get me and drives a mile and a half after I get in before she says anything. I measure it on the odometer.

“Your friend called four times,” she says. “He didn’t seem to know about your detention.”

“You mad?” I ask.

“No, I’m proud,” she says.

“Sorry,” I tell her.

“So what’d you do?” she says. “Talk back?”

“Talk back,” I tell her.

At dinner my dad tells me I’m grounded.

“No more malt shop for me,” I go.

He tells me I’m grounded an extra week.

Flake can’t believe it when I get him on the phone. “That’s fucked up,” he says. I can hear him sucking down a Go-Gurt. He goes through the things like he’s five years old. “How could you get into trouble so fast with everybody?”

He likes what I told the teacher. He thinks my parents should’ve cut me some slack. “FS,” he goes.

“FH,” I tell him.

All the lights and the TV finally go off around midnight. My dad peeks in to make sure I’m not on the computer or sharpening a spoon to cut out his heart. “You asleep?” he says.

“Completely,” I tell him. I have the covers over my face and a hand off each side of the bed.

“Try and avoid any felonies on day two,” he says. “Though I know you already set a standard for yourself.”

“I think Mom’s waiting for you,” I go.

“You got some mouth on you,” he says.

“Good night,” I tell him.

And I can’t sleep. The digital clock on the nightstand makes loose little flipping noises when the minutes change. I put my underwear over it and then can’t take it anymore and have to see how much time has passed. 1:14. 1:51. 1:54. 1:55. I lie there swearing like I’m calling Jesus Fucking Christ on my pillow radio. The flipping noises keep going, each one getting me closer to school.

I get up and go to the bathroom mirror. My nose is eight feet long and I’ve never had a haircut I liked. My glasses are crooked from always being broken. My lips are too big. If I get any skinnier I’ll be able to pull a sock up to my neck.

“Somebody help me,” I go. I squat on the floor with my hands behind my head and rock in place.

“You look worn out,” my mom tells me at breakfast.

“Can I just have orange juice?” I go.

“I’m worried about your weight,” she goes while she watches me drink it. My dad isn’t even up yet. He’s an econ professor at the college and his first class on Tuesdays isn’t until two-something.

“Your pants are ready,” she tells me, to cheer me up. “If you want to wear those green pants you were looking for.”

At the bus stop I squat again. I pull my knapsack by the straps up to the top of my head. The two ninth-graders waiting with me look weirded out.

“That girl who’s on everybody’s shirts is like Satan,” Flake goes at lunch. “She’s like Evil Incarnate.”

“You ever notice how many people around here wear green?” I ask him. “Everybody wears green.”

“Yo,” a seventh-grader says as he passes our table. Flake gives him a miniwave.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Jim Shepard is the author of seven novels and four previous story collections. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with his wife, three children, and three beagles. He teaches at Williams College.

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Project X 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did u mean gay when you said "curvy".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book a long time ago. When i was young. I dont know why there's a book like this out for children. The book is really good. But i think its one of the experiences in my life that contributed to deterioration of my mental health. So i wouldnt read it if i had a second chance.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
U kno its funny because i rly doubt that ur 14or 13 because u siad u were 13 one comment and the other u were 14 sooo.. ya xD im not sure if ur a female because i woyldnt giv u any personal info so how would we even date lmao
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
demond rp at sell your soul must be active talk to kathrine at the second res
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My names Emilie and i like se.x. Im 14 and single. If you ask for a description youll get one. Just put @reply in the top box
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hello, tell me about urself
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey ppl:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey go to zing res six
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*starts shuffling*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Go to our book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Does anyone wanna chat ?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every one is invited little dawg. Dj anon: its at jet res 9 thanks bro :) goo lookin
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*gets up and spins in circles*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*deh Fog Dragon eats the magical rainbow potato before he hits the water.* xD Hullo!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quietly leaves
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sitting in my bathroom painting my nails yummmmmmm i love pancakes>_<
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well i have dirty blonde haor and green eyes. Im 5'2 and am pretty skinny. I am also curvy and 13. I love sports art and reading. But im not a nerd
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sounds a bit mean to me *swims towards him grabbing neck and wrapping legs with his* so shall we?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shepard depicted the life of a not only depressed but true eight grader, and how cruel it really is. The people who commnted before are ignorant to see how that in these ds tha, tha IS wha is going on in te mind of every child who has those feeling, and yea it is ever parents fear and Shepard wrote it how it truly is, no sugar coating it, pur fact of reality. Only an ignorant person could not have liked this book.
DaKoTa_S More than 1 year ago
This book was disturbing on many levels. The book is written in first person, narrated by an 8th grader named Edwin. Edwin is miserably depressed and just can't seem to fit in. He refuses to join extra curricular activities and his BF Roddy and him are forever getting into fistfights with other kids. Both Edwin and Roddy don't feel they are accepted by their peers and seem to not care about anyone, including themselves. This book contains foul language and sexual content. There are some soft spots when Edwin is with his family, especially when he spends time with his little brother. Edwin also does take some trips down memory lane reminiscing of some happy childhood memories, but overall Edwin is negative, and feels he is unworthy. The boys are sick and tired of being treated like misfits and scum of the earth and they want to take revenge on their middle school- they even refer to the "Colorado Kids" (aka Columbine High School) in the book a few times. The book left a bad taste in my mouth and even though it was a page turner (because I wanted to see what was going to happen next)- I finished the book thinking,I feel that this book is more for adults. Dakota S
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
iknoudo More than 1 year ago
This book was very different, for a lack of words. It depcited what every parent on the planet is affraid might happen to their child at school. I did not enjoy Shepards writing style with the use of "I go, He goes" in place of "I said, He said". I found it very frustrating. It was a book that put me in someone elses shoes and I think would be a great book for a high school "bully" in need of an attitude adjustment. The end did leave me hanging but not so much that I felt as if there needed to be a sequel. Overall, I would recommend this book for a younger croud.