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.
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 teachersa 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.
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.
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.
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.)
“Shepard is masterly at setting up our heartbreak [and] is at his most brilliant in capturing the demented essence of junior high.”–The New York Times Book Review
“An energetic and often wickedly funny story of alienation and revenge.” –Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Shepard obviously has a lock on the new American paranoia, and his voice should be essential reading. . . . Here is the effect of [Shepard's] books: A reader finishes them buzzing with awe, with respect, and yet, with a great deal of worry." –Chicago Tribune
"Jim Shepard brings to his depiction of these lost boys a striking insight and even humor. They're so real, they nearly jump off the page into the nearest schoolyard, which makes it all the more chilling." –The Boston Globe