Friday, July 13, 2012

REVIEW: Give a Boy a Gun (Or Better, Don't!)

Strasser, T.  (2000).  Give a Boy a Gun.  New York:  Simon Pulse.

207 pages.

Appetizer:  After a tragic school shooting at Middletown High during a dance, a sophomore journalism student named Denise Shipley returns from college to her home town to interview the survivors, families and neighbors to try to understand what had happend to cause Gary Searle and Brendan Lawlor to decide to try to kill their classmates.

This young adult novel has a mixed media structure that consists of quotations from fictional schoolmates, teachers, friends and family members, excerpts from Gary and Brendan's emails and suicide notes.  The author also intermingled facts various news articles and statistics at the bottom of many pages. theory...loved this structure.  The reality was a little harder to follow.  This will seems picky, but I wished the quotations included tags of who had said them at the beginning instead of the traditional ending spotting.  Since many quotations went on for pages, it would have helped to have a better sense of characterization if I knew who was speaking before I finished reading his or her comment.  It also would have been nice to have more hints at who they were than their names.  (In a classroom, character logs could help extensively with this.  But as a casual reader who is awful with names, I confused a few of the people.)  Add to this the fact that the quotations and stats at the bottom of the pages often came mid-character comment made it difficult to know where and what to read when.  Here's a sample page so my grumbling will at least have some context:

See the New York Times Quote at the bottom left?  It comes mid-sentence.  When am I supposed to read it?  When?!  And who is speaking through most of these two pages.  I have to turn the page to find out.  *Whines*

I feel like an old fart to lodge all of those complaints.  I know it's up to each individual reader to choose how to tackle the book.  I just thought it could have been a little easier.  I do appreciate the experiment though.

Give a Boy a Gun does a great job of exploring Gary and Brendan's journey toward desperation.  I like the structure of going grade by grade until the night of the awful attack in terms of what contributed to their bad choices.  Strasser explores the influence of media, cliques, privileging of sports, bullying, family dynamics and a few other factors that influenced the characters.  He also includes a some suggestions in terms of the changes he'd like to see as well as a list of resources:
"I have no one answer.  But I do have suggestions:  The manufacture, importation, and possession of all semiautomatic assault-type weapons should be banned.  The sale of handguns should be restricted to the military and law enforcement agencies.  Children should be taught from the earliest age to respect one another's differences.  Schools should enact zero tolerance for teasing.  Students' achievements off the field should be valued as highly as those on the field." (p. 204)
When using this book in a classroom, my central assignment might be a research project to have students research more recent statistics.  (Most of the stats in the book are from the mid to late 1990's.)

Overall, an intense read that is important to help readers critically understand the issues surrounding potential school shootings and gun control.  It's an effective argument for stricter gun control and anti-bullying campaigns.

Dinner Conversation:  

"Dear Mom,
By the time you read this, I'll be gone.  I just want you to know that there's nothing you could have done to stop this.  I know you always tried your best for me, and if anyone doubts you, just show them this letter.
I don't know if I can really explain why I did this.  I know that every day of my life will hurt and and be a lot more bad than good.  It's entirely a matter of, What's the point of living?" (p. 7)

"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 in its path, but the shock waves from the impact severely jar the entire organ, ripping apart millions of delicate structures and connections." (p. 8)

"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." (p. 9)

"Gary wasn't always like that.  When we were in eighth grade and some big jock would body-slam us into a chalkboard or rip the pocket off our shirt, we'd be pissed, and we'd grumble about how we'd like to kill this guy and kick his face in.  The thing was it was all sort of make-believe wishful thinking.  Maybe you'd go home and play Doom for an hour and just blow everyone to bits.  But you never really considered getting a gun and going after them.  At least, I didn't.  --Ryan Clancy"  (pp. 35-36)

"You're walking down the hall, minding your own business.  You see this guy, and he just sneers at you and says, 'Hey, f@&&*t.' Thing is, to him it's nothing.  Two seconds later he's probably forgotten he even said it.  But it's burned in your brain.  It's a permanent scar.  A week later you're still asking yourself, why'd he have to do that?  Why'd he have to pick you?" (pp. 49-50)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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