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Bucking the Sarge
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bucking the Sarge by Newbery- and Coretta Scott King-honored author Chris Curtis (The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963) is about 15-year-old Luther running up against his shady mom. Even in the face of an intimidating criminal parent (and her hired goon) who uses him as a virtual slave, Luther, behaves as nobly as he can, though he indulges in retribution at the end. Young readers may find it interesting to do some research on some of the topics raised here: slumlords, loan sharking, and lead-based paint.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Luther's mother is determined to make it by milking the system. She's a tough, angry woman, and wants Luther to follow in her footsteps. She owns a string of slum properties, including halfway houses for mentally ill men, and a thriving loan sharking business. She has a couple of hired goons. And she has Luther, who has to do the scut work: taking care of old men in diapers, and cleaning out rat-ridden apartments after the tenants have been evicted.
But somehow, despite all that, Luther has turned out to be a decent kid, and at 15 he's chafing under her ironfisted rule. He wants to focus on doing well in school, winning his third science fair medal in a row, and eventually going to a good college, not running his mother's shady operations. He's trying to be a kid, not the wicked old man his mother's trying to turn him into.
Is it any good?
Newbery- and Coretta Scott King-honored author Chris Curtis moves into the present in his third book, but his trademark light touch and humorous approach to serious subjects remains the same. Given the subject matter, it seems strange to say that this is an enjoyable book, but it is, and the little revenge caper at the end wraps things up nicely, if a bit unrealistically.
But whereas in Curtis' previous books, especially his first, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, the humor combined with emotional power and impact, here the reader is kept at an emotional distance. Luther's problems are interesting and the resolution fun in an odd way, but it's all a little too light. Perhaps it's unfair -- this is still a well-written and engrossing novel. But from Chris Curtis we've come to expect more.