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Hard Time
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Hard Time

3.5 3
by Julian F. Thompson

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“When we’re born, we’re sentenced to, like, life. And some of us—I’d be a prime example—are made to do hard time."

So says Annie Ireland, sentenced to a life of trying to live up to her parents’ never-ending expectations. For a long time the only person she can count on for unconditional support is her best


“When we’re born, we’re sentenced to, like, life. And some of us—I’d be a prime example—are made to do hard time."

So says Annie Ireland, sentenced to a life of trying to live up to her parents’ never-ending expectations. For a long time the only person she can count on for unconditional support is her best friend, Arby, known to the horror and delight of many as “The Roach Boy.”

And then Pantagruel Primo, Esquire, comes into Annie’s life, and just like that, she has another friend, this one ageless and with special powers—and not looking like himself (at all), at first.

Suddenly, as a result of a story she writes for English class, Annie and her friends find themselves sentenced to five days in the county jail and then to an indefinite stay at the Back to Basics Center, a wilderness school for “problem” kids.

After a series of comic misadventures they manage to escape its bizarre, unpleasant clutches, and Annie comes to realize she’s unique and strong and lovable, and that it doesn’t matter what some other people think.

Delightfully ridiculous (but also timely), part fantasy and part real life, Hard Time is a humorous, sophisticated tale about one girl’s struggle to be who she is rather than the person some adults keep wanting her to become.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Thompson's uneven novel, high school freshman Annie Ireland learns about Pantagruel Primo, Esquire, the magical being living inside the baby doll she was issued in her life skills class, the night he saves her from a fire. They become friends, and with his help she writes a fantasy story for English class in which a remote control device "changes the channel" on a teacher and a classmate-from "alive to dead." Reading it, a scheming D.A. decides that Annie is a threat to public safety, and a judge agrees, sentencing Annie and Primo to the county jail for five days (when Arby, her soulmate, stands up for her, he receives the same sentence, for contempt of court). The threesome's lives spin further out of control when Annie's and Arby's parents send the kids to the Back to Basics Center, an expensive reform-oriented boot camp with a pair of sadistic counselors. Annie and Arby are likable, other characters are wickedly exaggerated, and the author creates some memorable moments (Primo magically improves the jail's smell by making plants appear in the cells' toilets). All in all, though, the fantasy elements are not consistently integrated into the plot, and while Primo adds color, he and his counterpart, Slurpagar the Quaint, are mostly unnecessary, except perhaps to provide a mediocre deus ex machina. Fans of the author's The Grounding of Group 6 may appreciate this equally extreme portrayal of society's suspicion of teens, but ultimately this novel never fully gels. Ages 14-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-In this broadly satirical fantasy, a leprechaun named P.P. (Pantagruel Primo, Esquire) coincidentally inhabits the body of a baby doll that Annie Ireland carries around for her ninth-grade Life Skills class. P.P.'s identity is revealed when he announces to Annie that her house is burning down, a dire event that leads her self-absorbed parents to park their daughter with her aunt and uncle while they escape to a fat farm in Arizona. Thompson's style is sophisticated and irreverent. The vocabulary, choice of names, literary allusions, and plays on words all contribute to his lampoon of acronyms, censorship, greedy adults, standardized tests, sweepstakes, camp counselors, life in jail, and more. When a story that Annie writes for her English class is published in the school's literary magazine, it draws the eye of a D.A. who has her arrested, tried, and sentenced to five days in jail for advocating school violence. This is just the first in a bizarre string of punishments imposed upon Annie and her friend Arby, who is also jailed when he protests her conviction. From there, they are sent to a militaristic boarding school. The most extreme punishment imposed on the friends is solitary confinement in the ACLU (Auto-Cathartic Learning Unit) by Dr. Smithers of the BBC and his stun-gun-wielding wife, Dolores, both classic caricatures. Rescued in the end by their magical ally, P.P., Annie and Arby are happily returned to their families, a remarkably mellow ending to a comic novel that is truly over the top.-Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A "hard time" is what Thompson gives the grown-ups in this droll tale of two teenagers discovering that no good deed goes unpunished. Thanks to a story in her high school's literary magazine featuring a dead teacher, Annie Ireland finds herself sentenced to five days in the local lockup as an "example," then bundled off to a wilderness camp for hard-core offenders, and ultimately locked up in an underground behavior-mod cell. Fortunately, she has two loyal, if distinctly unconventional, allies: best friend Nemo Skank, nicknamed Arby, for "Roach Boy" (don't ask); and Pantagruel Primo, a gnome temporarily inhabiting the body of a baby doll assigned to Annie's care in Life Skills class. As usual, the author contrasts decent, levelheaded teens with savagely caricatured adults, meanwhile using the former (plus, in this case, Primo) as mouthpieces to dispense commonsense advice about coping with the perils of adolescence. Thanks to a wacky cast and situations that sometimes take an ominous turn, that advice never turns over-earnest-and Annie and Arby, a likable couple if ever there was one, come through it all triumphantly, wiser but not at all sadder. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Baby

"When we're born," Annie Ireland told the Roach Boy once, "we're sentenced to, like, life. And some of us -- I'd be a prime example -- are made to do hard time."

She didn't blame that solely on the baby, though.

The baby, or "your baby," as Ms. Beach referred to it when she handed Annie hers, was a life-size doll. All the freshman girls at Converse High who were enrolled in the required Life Skills class were given their own babies to take care of. So Annie had to have the baby with her all day, every school day. Wherever she was, she bottle-fed it, burped it, and changed it, according to Ms. Beach's schedule. It slept through most of Annie's classes, though, a sign of its intelligence, she thought. The baby was an anatomically correct boy who had "nothing to write home about," according to Laird Sediment, a guy in Annie's class who liked to watch and snicker during diaperings.

Annie didn't think she needed Life Skills class. She didn't need to be warned about what would happen if she played unprotected hide the weenie with the Roach Boy, the only male with whom she had had so much as social intercourse. And she didn't have to learn "responsibility." Shit, she thought, if anything, she was too responsible already, too perennially conscience-stricken and turning cartwheels to do better, to live up to her parents' endless row of "We expect's."

Copyright © 2003 by Julian F. Thompson

Meet the Author

Julian F. Thompson is the author of many award-winning books for young adults, among them Simon Pure, A Band of Angels, Gypsyworld, The Grounding of Group 6, Terry and the Pirates, and Hard Time. He founded an alternative school in northern New Jersey in the early 1970s and has been a champion of teenagers ever since he was one. Mr. Thompson and his wife, artist Polly Thompson, live in Burlington and West Rupert, Vermont.

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Hard Time 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It went overboard just a little. However the plotline was great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book give everything that you could want in book, magic, romance, adventure and it is all focused around teens. Since usually these topics apply to adult stories, I praise Mr. Thompson for it. He shows that teens are often misunderstood for things that they do and unjustly punished for them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was OK.. Primo was probably my favorite character (and that's saying something). I wish the book wasn't written in such...proper language. I mean, I'm glad it was written so that I could understand it, but it just made the characters seem weak.