Monday, August 17, 2009

REVIEW: Carlos is Gonna Get It

Emerson, K.  (2008).  Carlos is Gonna Get It.  New York:  Arthur A. Levine Books.


As the end of the school year approaches, Trina and the rest of the seventh graders prepare for the class overnight trip.  Trina's four closest friends, led by Thea, are convinced the strange boy, Carlos, who often disruptes class with outburst and fears alien attacks is going to ruin the overnight.  So Thea leads the others in a plan to get Carlos.  Trina, however, isn't convinced that Carlos's episodes on his "day afters" aren't just attempts to get some attention.  Maybe Carlos's problems are real.  But is that chance worth fighting all of her friends and being teased for her refusal to trick Carlos?

I struggled with reading this book from the beginning, mainly because as a teacher and adult my sympathy was immediately with Carlos.  Now this doesn't mean Trina isn't relatable, her guilt and hesitation over pulling a prank on Carlos makes her redeemable, but I was still frustrated by the fact that she didn't stand up for Carlos.  Emerson still makes her struggles understandable and believable.  Her voice makes this novel engaging.  She sounds pretty close to an authentic seventh grade girl (which means she says 'like' a lot).  Although in general, I feel like the main characters' interactions often felt too immature to be seventh graders.  But having said that, Emerson captures the tension of peer pressure and guilt well.  He creates a number of good images and similes relating the behavior of Trina and her friends to those of carnivorous beasts.

The fact that neither a middle class life style or whiteness are assumed by this text is another plus.  Although race is not at the center of the book, through subtle hints, savvy and knowledgeable readers can access Trina as black.

Worth noting for teachers would would want to use this book with younger students, there is a swear word and gesture or two thrown around as insults.

Activities to Do with the Book:

This is a good, but painful book to share to explore relationships among "normal" students and those who stand out as different.  It would lend itself to having students do reflective writing on the decisions and issues Trina faces in helping to plan a prank on Carlos.

Students could also do their own research projects on subjects like, carnivorous animals, aliens, special needs education, geological patterns in rocks, the geography and history of Boston, etc.

Quotes of Note:

"We decided to play a trick on Carlos.  'Cause Carlos, he had problems.  Los of 'em.  Sometimes he was just too annoying, and by the end of seventh grade, we just couldn't take it anymore.
Now Carlos had always been strange.  No matter where you were or what your were doing, you could always count on him to be having some kind of problem" (p. 1).

"Carlos, why do you have those days when you have, like extra problems?"
He looked up at me like he was thinking hard, then answered with a totally serious face:  "Well," he said in his tiny voice, "those are the days after I get the visits."
"What visits?" I asked.
He leaned close to me and put a hand to his mouth.  "The visists from them."
"Them who?"
"You know..." he looked out across the parking lot to make sure we were alone, then he said it:  "Aliens." (p. 10).

"Everyone was into it except me.  I was just walking along with a safe smile, listening.
Because there was one problem.  It wasn't that this plan was more risky and complicated than usual.  And it wasn't that Carlos didn't deserve it, because didn't he, for being so annoying all the time, and never controlling himself, and never getting in trouble for it?
The only problem with playing a trick on Carlos was that I didn't really want to, but I knew that I had to" (p. 32)

"But that was the problem with playing this trick on Carlos.  He wasn't normal.  And while most kids just figured he made his problems up to get attention, I wasn't so sure.  I had to be stuck wondering about Carlos's feelings.  I had to feel bad for him for having problems.  Because, like, if he was only doing this whole Day After thing to get attention, then why did he seem so miserable about it all the time?  And that made me feel like I shouldn't be annoyed by him, even when I was.  Stupid guilt-demon!" (p. 34).

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