As his best friend Sparky says, “Flint’s nothing but the Titanic.”
And his mother, a.k.a. the Sarge, says, “Take my advice and stay off the sucker path.”
The Sarge milked the system to build an empire of slum housing and group homes. Luther’s just one of the many people trapped in the Sarge’s Evil Empire—but he’s about to bust out.
If Luther wins the science fair this year, he’ll be on track for college and a future as America’s best-known and best-loved philosopher. All he’s got to do is beat his arch rival Shayla Patrick, the beautiful daughter of Flint’s finest undertaker—and the love of Luther’s life.
Sparky’s escape plans involve a pit bull named Poofy and the world’s scariest rat. Oh, and Luther. Add to the mix Chester X., Luther’s mysterious roommate; Dontay Gaddy, a lawyer whose phone number is 1-800-SUE’M ALL; and Darnell Dixon, the Sarge’s go-to guy who knows how to break all the rules.
Bucking the Sarge is a story that only Christopher Paul Curtis could tell. Once again the Newbery Award–winning author of Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 gives us a whole new angle on life and a world full of unforgettable and hilarious characters. Readers will root for Luther and Sparky every step of the way.
Praise for The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963:
“An exceptional first novel.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred
“Ribald humor . . . and a totally believable child’s view of the world will make this book an instant hit.”—School Library
Praise for Bud, Not Buddy:
“Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud.”
—School Library Journal, Starred
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Just a minute, fellas. Hello?”
“Luther?” It was Sparky. He sounded like he’d just run five miles. “Have you looked outside, bruh?” I could hear the wind howling behind him.
“Yeah, where you at?”
“I’m on the phone outside Seven-Eleven. It’s like a hurricane out here!”
“Then why don’t you get inside? Are you coming over?” The 7-Eleven was only a couple of blocks away.
Sparky said, “Uh-uh. I need you to meet me behind Taco Bell.”
“You need what?”
“Seriously! This is my big chance, baby! Before this night is over I’m going to be calling 1-800-SUE-EM-ALL. I finally got someone to sic the big D.O.G. on.” He started barking into the phone.
“Sparky, what are you talking about?”
“I’ma put me a suit in on Taco Bell!”
“Oh, you’re gonna do that old I-found-a-rat-in-my-burrito trick?”
Sparky said, “Please, they peeped out that scam a long time ago, they even do autopsies on the rat if you claim that happened. I got the bomb, baby! But I’m gonna need your help.”
“Uh-uh, Luther, this is for real. I walked by Taco Bell and all them red tiles are lifting up off the roof and knocking the mess out of everything in the parking lot! One went clean through someone’s windshield!”
“Which is why you gotta get down here.”
I said, “Why would I come out on a night like this to watch some roofing tiles crashing into cars . . .” Then I understood. “Now I get it, you want a witness that you got hit by one of those tiles, right?”
“Something like that, but I need a little more.”
“I really do need to get hit, and you’re the only one I can trust to do it right.”
“Aw, no. That ain’t happening!”
“Come on, Luther, I already got one of the tiles set to do it. All you gotta do is kinda tap me in the head, then walk me into Taco Bell and have them call an ambulance.”
“Don’t worry, bruh, you know when I get paid I’ma break a little something off for you.”
“You must be kidding.”
“Luther, don’t make me beg.”
“I can’t do it, Sparky. Besides, you’re cutting into my science fair project time. Plus I gotta put the Crew to bed, that’s going to take at least half an hour.”
Sparky said, “If that’s the best you can do, half an hour then, behind the Taco Bell.”
He said, “I just hope the wind hasn’t died down by then, it’ll be on you if it has. Your half hour could be costing us a whole lotta benjamins, my brother.”
“I’ll see you in half an hour, but this better be quick, I’ma just whack you in the head, then I gotta bounce.”
Sparky didn’t have to worry, by the time I’d settled everyone down and started walking to Taco Bell the wind had even picked up some.
The stop sign on the corner was twisting back and forth in the wind, sounding like a rocket made out of tin cans and duct tape getting ready to blast off. The wind was hot in a way that made you want to close your eyes and tilt your head back and breathe real deep. Or maybe even howl.
Something from the roof of Taco Bell somersaulted through the air, then smashed into the parking lot. Sparky popped out from behind a Dumpster and ran toward me with a tile in his hand.
“Sparky,” I yelled, “this is insane, man, let’s just go home.”
Sparky shook his head and said, “Come on, bruh, hurry up, this ain’t real easy for me, you know.”
I took the reddish-brown clay roofing tile from him. I was surprised how heavy it was. He leaned toward me, closed his eyes tight and showed his teeth.
“Come on, Luther, quit torturing me,” he whined, keeping his teeth clenched. “Do it!”
I shook my head and closed my eyes. I raised the tile about shoulder high, brought it down on his head and felt a little shimmy run up my arm. Sparky was still standing with his eyes squinched shut.
He looked at me. “That’s it?” He brought his hand up, rubbed at the spot where I’d hit him and said, “Man, you gotta be kidding, don’t forget this thing’s supposed to have blowed off a roof, you really gotta knock the snot outta me, bruh.”
I dropped the tile. “This ain’t me, you gotta get someone else.”
Sparky looked hurt. “What? You supposed to be my boy, who else can I trust?”
He picked the tile back up and reached it toward me again. “Remember what we used to say, ‘We’ll have each other’s backs from womb to tomb, you’ll be my boy from birth to earth.’”
What could I say? He was right, we had said that. I took the tile again. It must’ve weighed ten pounds.
The wind was really starting to get serious. The stop sign had stopped shaking and was now whistling and going back and forth like one of those piano metronome things. Two more tiles jumped off the roof and exploded in the parking lot.
“All right, fool, bend your head over.”
I closed my eyes, raised the tile over my head and let it drop on Sparky’s skull. Again my arm shimmied. When I opened my eyes Sparky was looking at me the way you’d look at a kid who brought home all Ds on his report card.
He said, “Man, all you’re doing is giving me a headache! Swing that tile, brother! I bet if I went and got your crusty old mother she wouldn’t have no troubles lighting me up.”
If only he knew. The Sarge would’ve paid big cash to take my place right now. Sparky isn’t one of her favorite people. She would’ve hit him so hard it would’ve knocked his head clean off. I laughed. “Leave my mother out of this.”
Reading Group Guide
1. Sparky and Luther are very different, but they have a close friendship. What do you think makes them such good friends, and why are they so loyal to each other?
2. Luther is very compassionate: he returns KeeKee’s papers and takes care of the Crew. In a town and in a family in which many of the people are quite selfish, why do you think Luther is this way?
3. What is the significance of the character D.O.G. (Dontay Orlando Gaddy)? Why do you think it’s important to the story that Luther and Sparky pay a visit to him?
4. Are there times in the story when you think the Sarge gives good advice? Do you think she cares about Luther?
5. In chapter eight, the Sarge explains why she decided to milk the system and avoid the “sucker path.” What do you think of the reasons she gives for her behavior?
6. Luther could tell the mayor or the police at the science fair about the Sarge’s criminal activity as a landlord, but instead, he chooses to take what he feels he deserves and leave. Why does he leave town without turning the Sarge in?
7. Chester X becomes something of a father to Luther. Do you trust him? Do you think Luther and Chester X will succeed in Florida?
8. What do you think Luther will be doing in two years? What do you think Sparky will be doing? What will happen to KeeKee and Bo?