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Give a Boy a Gun

Give a Boy a Gun

4.4 164
by Todd Strasser

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For as long as they can remember, Brendan and Gary have been mercilessly teased and harassed by the jocks who rule Middletown High. But not anymore. Stealing a small arsenal of guns from a neighbor, they take their classmates hostage at a school dance. In the panic of this desperate situation, it soon becomes clear that only one thing matters to Brendan and Gary:


For as long as they can remember, Brendan and Gary have been mercilessly teased and harassed by the jocks who rule Middletown High. But not anymore. Stealing a small arsenal of guns from a neighbor, they take their classmates hostage at a school dance. In the panic of this desperate situation, it soon becomes clear that only one thing matters to Brendan and Gary: revenge.

Editorial 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.|
Publishers Weekly
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.,
— Paula Rohrlick
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)

Children's Literature
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.|
Kirkus Reviews
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 message—if these kids couldn't easily procure weapons, this tragedy could have been averted—comes through loud and clear it is also a denunciation of the value system of an entire community, a community that allowed—even encouraged—a select few to rule by bullying. As the stepsister of one of the gunmen said, "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." 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)

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

Product Details

Simon Pulse
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
12 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Introduction 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.

-- Denise Shipley

Copyright © 2000 by Todd Strasser

Meet the Author

Todd Strasser has written many critically acclaimed novels for adults, teenagers, and children, including the award-winning Can’t Get There from Here, Give a Boy a Gun, Boot Camp, If I Grow Up, Famous, and How I Created My Perfect Prom Date, which became the Fox feature film Drive Me Crazy. Todd lives in a suburb of New York and speaks frequently at schools. Visit him at ToddStrasser.com.

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Give a Boy a Gun 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 164 reviews.
supermegafoxyawsomehawt More than 1 year ago
This book teaches us all a lesson. I decided to get this book from my local library because i am a big fan of this author. I was exieted to finally read it because all books i had read by Todd Strasser metioned how he wrote this. This book is basicaly made up of interveiws to witnesses of a school shooting. But i goes alot deeper than that. It pieces together an unforgetable story. There are times when u wanna take the main characters Gary and Brennen, give em a good shake, and point them in the rite direction. They are the "bad guys" but you find yourself caring for them along the way. Earlier when i said that this book teaches a lesson, i was talking about the footnotes it has at the bottom of many pages. It shows heartbreaking facts about guns and teens. Please read, this book connects and stays with you
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Every person in the world should read this book. That being said, I'll admit right off that I hate guns. Absolutely abhor them. I'm the mother who refuses to let her children play with toy guns, even water pistols. Why? Why, indeed. Why let your children shoot things at each other--whether it be water, rubber darts, BBs, or paint balls--if you don't want them to shoot bullets at each other? After all, that's what guns are for. To shoot bullets. Bullets that are designed to do one thing, and one thing only--kill. Or, if you prefer, injure, maim, dismember, or wound.

So what is GIVE A BOY A GUN about? In a few words, human nature, the cruelty of children, and how those factors don't really mix well with guns. Oh sure, gun activists say that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." And, if you get technical about it, they're right. But when someone gives you a guitar, what's it for? It produces musical sounds. Yes, it needs an actual human to aide it along, but a guitar does what it's made to do--make music. Just like a gun, with the aide of a human, does what it's supposed to do--kill.

In Todd Strasser's GIVE A BOY A GUN, we learn about Brendan and Gary, two boys who live each day of school in their own personal hell. They're not athletic, so the jocks pick on them. They're not particularly brainy, so they don't fit in with the nerds. They don't come from extremelely wealthy families, so they're not immediately deemed popular. In fact, Brendan and Gary are like 95% of every teenager you meet--normal kids living normal lives, trying their best to just get through the day. I remember all too well the horror and terror of high-school; not physical, at least in my case, but the sheer emotional bullying that I received from kids who deemed me not up to par. And the teachers who turn a blind eye, either because the tormentors were too valuable to the school as athletes, or too much trouble to deal with.

But for Brendan and and Gary, enough turns out to be enough. Really, how much torment can one person take? When teachers and administration and counselors turn the other way, when budget restraints prevent teachers from the ability to really get to know their students, when athleticism takes precedent over brain power, when will school bullying come to an end? Why, really, should it shock us as a nation when things like Columbine happen? Has it really been so long ago that you were in school that you can't remember what it was like to be the object of someone's daily put-downs, or the sneers and snide comments from the "popular" kids?

Gary and Brendan, along with a few others like them, were "outcasts" in their school. When their fascination with revenge on those who've tormented them leads to guns, it really shouldn't surprise anyone. GIVE A BOY A GUN is interspersed with tragic facts--school shootings over the last several decades, quotes from newspaper articles, statistics from gun companies--that prove that teens and guns is a growing problem. But really, when you think about it, why should it shock us? We always see signs that proclaim a school a "drug-free zone", but when will we ever see one that proclaims it a "bully-free zone", or a "tolerance for everyone" zone?....

Read the full review at www.teensreadtoo.com
lillysoto More than 1 year ago
I personally thought this book was a story that needs to be told for everyone to know what can happen in reality. This book teches many of us a lesson. One would be to respect eachother and when you see someone being bullied you need to help. Dont judge them for how they look or how they are. Because in the end itll be your fault. Thiis book taught me a valuable lessson indeed. I loved it and it certainly chnaged my perspective on many things. I loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From my teacher it was amazing.
JimRGill2012 More than 1 year ago
To tell the story of two alienated and disaffected teenagers who become obsessed with guns and bombs and ultimately vow to exact revenge on all the students, faculty members, and administrators at their school, Todd Strasser uses a quilt of voices to reflect the incomplete narrative that inevitably emerges from tragedies such as these. None of the characters in this chronicle is developed in any conventional sense—and the underdevelopment of the characters, along with the hazy sense of plot, unconventional structure, and overall sense of detachment—are probably calculated and strategic risks to reflect the theme of incomprehensibility and senseless loss that accompanies the events in this novel (if this book may even be classified as a novel). Brief portions of the narrative lapse into preachy homilies about bullying and tolerance, but it’s tough to object when there are no easy solutions. An unexpected and ironic development at the climax of the violence highlights the complexity of the issue, and no one escapes blame. Strasser acknowledges that we are all culpable—to some extant—for a culture that values violence over empathy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ugh. More anti gun propaganda from the crazy naive fools who believe guns are the problem, not the people holding them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Iiiiiiiiiiiii loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee itttttttttttttttttttttttttt sooooooooooooo muchhhhhhghhhhhhh
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so good yet so sad, that i had to read it in one day. And it really made me think of what our world is coming to, and i hope that this will not happen to me when i enter high school.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LTMAYVILLE More than 1 year ago
GREAT DESCRIPTIONS! I think the book Give a boy a Gun by Todd Strasser deserves 3 stars because the characters told what was going on and what they saw. Another good thing about this book is that is uses good word choice like epiphany when Brendan got tackled by Paul Burns who was the hero. I like that it included both suicide notes in the paper. I recommend this book to someone who wants to visualize when he or she wants to read it. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would be his friend. I would help him overcome what happened. I believe that brendan influenced Gary to do what he did. I believe that if Brendan hadn't moved to little town, this wouldn't have happened to Gary. Face it America, what they did was wrong, but kids like Sam Flach pushed them over the edge. I believe Bredan took a good kid, brought guns into his life and influenced him to be a killer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is admazing. You find yourself feelimg sorry for Gray amd Brenden because you can see why they did it but at the same time it is hard to believe that some one can kill another. This book unlocks the minds of two very troubled boys but at the same time opens you to the victuims of bulling and how far some one is willing to go.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very sad .people should think 2ce about their actions
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This bookis really interesting and good if u like violence
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ya he did
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book changed my life and the way I see things. This book is gripping, raw, and all too real. We see this in the news way too often and it's because of this book that I have become a gun control activist. Everyone looks at these kids like monsters when really they're just teenagers that are hurting inside and have no where to turn. This book allows you to get into the minds of Gary and Brendan and understand how they were tormented every single day. It makes you understand just how awful it is. It makes you want to just hold these kids and tell them that it will be okay. This book was definitely a tear jerker. Best book I've ever read. I highly reccomend it :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LOLZskittles More than 1 year ago
A good book raising awareness about Teens and guns.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
A tale all too chillingly real in current school environments. Two young men, Brendan and Gary are victims of teasing and physical bullying by members of the 'in' group (the jocks on the football team). Unable and unwilling to endure any more abuse they approach teachers and others to get some help to end the harassment. Unfortunately, they are told 'it's in their genes' and 'boys will be boys'. The boys decide to take matters into their own hands and develop a plan of retribution to gain their revenge on the assailants and others who just refuse to get involved. Eerily similar to the incidents at Columbine, this story reads as a wake up call to what happens in school environments. Teachers and administrators, parents and police share responsibility and a share of the blame of the tragedy. The book also contains many statistics about guns and gun control and also resources for help or information to those seeking it. I'm so grateful that this happened only in a book. Let's make this required reading in middle and high school environments and try to abort any possibility of similar events ever happening again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago