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Swallowing Stones

Swallowing Stones

4.3 36
by Joyce McDonald

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It begins with a free and joyful act—but from then on, Michael finds it impossible even to remember what it felt like to be free and joyful.  When he fires his new rifle into the air on his seventeenth birthday, he never imagines that the bullet will end up killing someone.  But a mile away, a man is killed by that bullet as he


It begins with a free and joyful act—but from then on, Michael finds it impossible even to remember what it felt like to be free and joyful.  When he fires his new rifle into the air on his seventeenth birthday, he never imagines that the bullet will end up killing someone.  But a mile away, a man is killed by that bullet as he innocently repairs his roof.  And Michael keeps desperately silent while he watches his world crumble.

Meanwhile Jenna, the dead man's daughter, copes with desperation of her own.  Through her grief, she tries to understand why she no longer feels comfortable with her boyfriend and why a near stranger named Michael keeps appearing in her dreams.

Suspenseful and powerfully moving, this is the unforgettable story of an accidental crime and its haunting web of repercussions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The lives of four teenagers are drastically changed by a freak Fourth of July accident. "Readers will quickly become absorbed in this electrifying portrayal of fear and deception," said PW. Ages 12-up. (Aug.) r Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA - Joyce Sparrow Bukowski
The unexpected consequences of celebratory gunfire are the topic of this well-written novel, which explores "a world where things you never thought could happen to you did." Seventeen-year-old Michael MacKenzie fires his new rifle into the air on the Fourth of July, and the bullet unexpectedly kills Charlie Ward, who is repairing the roof of his home several blocks away from Michael's house. As police investigate the incident, Michael tries to cover up the evidence and his involvement in the killing. The stress of his circumstance affects his relationships with his friends and family, who are unaware of his dilemma. In the end, Michael plans to admit his guilt and talks with Jenna Ward, the teenage daughter of the man he killed. This novel will appeal to a broad audience, and it is a great vehicle for discussions about guns, violence, and responsibility. A good companion read for even more discussion is One-eyed Cat (Dell, 1985) by Paula Fox. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 7-UpMichael MacKenzie, 17, spends a tormented summer of guilt squeezing through the interstices of lies that he and his unsavory friend, Joe, concoct to hide the fact that a shot Michael fired from a rifle killed a man working on his roof over a mile away. In alternating chapters, Michael and the dead man's 15-year-old daughter, Jenna, creep inexorably toward their inevitable confrontation. This mesmerizing story largely derives its power from the respect McDonald demonstrates for these teens and their emotions, and her unwavering focus on their changing relationships in response to the tragedy. While on the surface the summer revolves around parties and the pool, readers are insinuated into the underlying culture that structures and controls their lives. Amy, who is scorned as a slut according to high school gossip, is revealed to be a Mary Magdalene-like character whose compassion and gentle caring contribute mightily to Michael's resolve to confess his culpability first to Jenna, then the police. Reminiscent of Michael Cadnum's work in the violent underpinnings of the plot and intensity of the characters' emotional lives, Swallowing Stones may also remind readers of Eve Bunting's Such Nice Kids (Houghton, 1990) and Robert Cormier's We All Fall Down (Delacorte, 1991). The almost magically surreal ending will leave many readers turning the page to find out what happens next.Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA
Kirkus Reviews
The best day of Michael Mackenzie's life becomes the worst when the bullet he exuberantly fires into the air during his 17th birthday party comes down a mile away and kills a man. When he hears the story on the radio, the news hits him like a lightning bolt. Numbly following the advice of his best friend, Joe, he buries the rifle and tries, without much success, to get on with life. So does the victim's 15-year-old daughter, Jenna, who had been present when the bullet struck. Switching between Michael's point-of-view and Jenna's, McDonald (Comfort Creek, 1996) sends the two teenagers dancing slowly toward each other, using mutual acquaintances, chance meetings at parties and the community pool, and glimpses at a distance. Both go through parallel phases of denial, both are tortured by remorse, exhibit behavior changes, and experience strange dreams; both eventually find ways to ease their grief and guilt. When the police close in, Joe takes the blame, giving Michael the nerve to confess. In the final chapter, McDonald shifts to present tense and brings Michael and Jenna to a cathartic meeting under a huge sycamore said in local Lenape legend to be a place of healing—an elaborate and, considering the suburban setting and familiar contemporary characters, awkward graft in this deliberately paced but deeply felt drama.

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

It was all true, then. The nightmare was real. Michael could no longer pretend, as he sometimes did, that there was a chance he hadn't fired that fatal shot. The bullet had come from somewhere in his neighborhood. The chances of someone else in such a small area shooting off a gun around noon on that same day were probably one in a million. He had spent weeks trying to get used to the idea that he had committed this hideous act. But always, somewhere, there had been hope. A bullet traveling a mile or more through the air could have come from as far away as the next town over. There had always been the outside chance that someone else had fired a gun into the air that Fourth of July afternoon. Now that chance no longer existed.

Meet the Author

Joyce McDonald is the author of several critically acclaimed young adult and middle-grade novels, including Shades of Simon Gray, an Edgar Allan Poe Award nominee and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and Devil on My Heels, nominated for five state awards. She is also a poet and is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in writing program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. She lives in Forks Township, Pennsylvania, with her husband. Visit Joyce at joycemcdonald.net.

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