Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
Most of us have felt the sting of being excluded by some cliques during our school careers, so we will recognizeand possibly empathize withthe nerds who write for the school paper, the popular jocks, the disaffected Goths, and the loners. Our protagonist, Caleb Dunne, prides himself on not wanting anything. He calls himself a professional slacker. Most academics come to him fairly easily, so he invests little effort in his school work. He is dating Vicky, the popular and pretty candidate for student body president. However, she is growing disenchanted with his lack of ambition and has made his attendance at a new club, based on the book The Rule of Won, a condition of continuing their relationship. The charismatic leader of the group, Ethan Skinson, is an unsavory character. He is trying to steal Caleb's girlfriend and is not above cheating to convince his growing group of followers that he holds the key to their happiness and fulfillment. As rumors about actualized wishes spread through the school, the postings on the club website grow more unbalanced and exclusionary. Participation is encouraged through physical intimidation, and people start getting hurtseriously. An unpopular teacher is in a car wreck that may not have been accidental, a depressed girl attempts suicide, and the newspaper editor is beaten up by masked attackers. Caleb realizes that it's no longer an option to do nothing. Characters in this book are only partially developed; it feels like we have dropped in for a visit and do not really getting to know anyone. Likewise, there are a number of provocative ideas, like following false idols, which could have been explored more satisfyingly.Nevertheless, this is an accessible and engaging read for teens who deal daily with the pressures of conformity and belonging. This would serve as a good discussion starter about values and critical thinking. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Kathleen Beck
Self-proclaimed slacker Caleb Dunne feels stuck in the economic and social doldrums of Screech Neck. So when his overachieving girlfriend Vicki suggests that he join the new group based on a book called The Rule of Won, Caleb is skeptical but intrigued. As charismatic leader Ethan explains, "If you can completely imagine you've already achieved some goal . . . , you will win it." Thinking it a joke, Caleb wonders whether this theory means that everyone should then have everything that they want. But the idea spreads like wildfire through Screech Neck High, and soon Caleb realizes that things are rapidly spinning out of control. Petrucha sets out to examine the power of a cult and a persuasive leader. With echoes of the "prosperity gospel" and Rhonda Byrne's bestseller The Secret (Beyond Words/S & S, 2006), the topic is timely. It feels, however, as though this title was rushed into print before the author could decide whether he was writing a satire or a straightforward story. Everything is exaggerated: the bleakness of Screech Neck, the principal's vendetta against Caleb, Ethan's resort to violence. A key plot device, the repeated collapse of the new gym, is unconvincing. A side plot involving Ethan's sister, whose drawings might possibly have power of their own, is a distraction. Caleb has a distinctive if snarky voice, although he is given to awkward similes such as, "Silence hung in the air like a smelly old sock on a doorknob." This worthy although flawed effort will be useful for discussion, but better editing could have produced a real winner. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up
Faced with the possibility of losing his overachieving girlfriend, self-avowed slacker Caleb reluctantly joins a new school club centered around a highly touted self-help book (based on Rhonda Byrne's bestseller The Secret ). Led by charismatic Ethan, members attempt to practice The Rule of Won: "if you can completely imagine you've already achieved some goal in your life, you will win it." At first, their positive thinking seems to bring about positive change: they wish for funding for Screech Neck High and the school receives a large grant. However, as the group becomes more popular and powerful, its members begin to bully those who don't share their beliefs, and their "Craves" (wishes or goals) become morally suspect. Caleb is increasingly troubled by the assertions that people bring evil on themselves by their own negative thoughts, and that positive thoughts alone are enough to achieve aspirations. When he discovers that Ethan has been helping the Craves with criminal acts, he realizes that he will have to take a stand. Caleb is a likable character, and his slightly self-deprecating first-person narrative is filled with humor and insight. Readers will be rooting for him in his final confrontation with Ethan. The book is fast paced and gripping enough to draw in reluctant readers; sections depicting "Craves" posted to a discussion board are both comical and frightening. Raising questions about issues such as personal responsibility, freedom of speech and the press, and standing up for unpopular beliefs, this novel would be a terrific choice for book-group and class discussions.-Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ