Bucking the Sarge

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Bucking the Sarge Book Poster Image
Luther fights to survive his criminal mother.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Luther's mother is a criminal, and he resorts to dishonesty and theft to get her back. He also drives with a fake license, and aid a friend in a failed scam.


None shown directly, but choking, breaking fingers, a pistol, and a beating are referred to. Luther hits his friend over the head with a roofing tile.


Luther carries an old condom in hopes of using it, masturbation is strongly hinted at several times, talk of "having a woman," and a butt squeeze.


A few mild words and one instance of "giving the finger."


Several products and designer labels mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A crack-addicted mother and a drug dealer are minor characters.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written by[email protected] April 9, 2008


horrible book
Adult Written bycheckinupagain April 9, 2008

Great book!

This book is a wonderful book. Children reading it should be mature enough to handle the inferences to masturbation and the talk of chauncy the condom. If the... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bybribri3010 September 16, 2011


this was the most horrible, boring book i have ever read in my life i advise you not to read it you will fall asleep very fast!
Teen, 13 years old Written bysportygirlemily97 June 29, 2011

bucking the sarge

ok from comments and the reviews for the book i kinda feel weird reading it now now i dont wana read it bc it sounds weird and sounds nasty

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they would have done in Luther's situation. Do you think Luther's actions at the end of the book are justified? Is there a better solution to his problems than the one he eventually finds?

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