A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
After bullies write that "Cameron Diaz loves" Cameron's best friend on the bathroom wall, his friend won't talk to him anymore and says "I'm no fag. Stay away from me." When another boy who is bullied talks to him, Cameron "digs around inside himself for a little compassion and comes up empty." A disturbed boy in Cameron's class digs a paperclip into his own palm until blood drips onto his desk. Cameron's grades drop because he can't concentrate at school because of the bullying. Cameron tells a teacher, "You're an ass." Cameron feels empowered by setting fires, which he believes proves "he has bigger balls." After killing a boy, Cameron goes to PE class. Cameron dismisses any feelings of remorse: "I killed someone. But it was only Pinon. The kid was a pervert." He insists "he did the only thing he could do." Cameron's mother burns his clothes, which are evidence in the case. He questions her ability to protect him or fix things.
Violence & Scariness
Cameron is emotionally and physically bullied at school by football players who call him "Cameron Diaz" and say he is gay. He is always fearful at school and the bullies roam in packs, taunting and beating kids. A friend of Cameron's is beaten so badly he ends up in the hospital. Bullies hold Cameron and take pictures of him naked in the locker room that they post on the Internet; there is the suggestion of sexual assault but no graphic description. Cameron likes to play with fire, throws a lit match on his brother's shirt, starts a fire in a school trash can, and lights an abandoned car on fire and burns part of a city park. Cameron carries a knife to school so he can cut the bully's throat. He kills another boy by smashing a metal lock into his skull.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Cameron hears stories about a boy "making it with two girls at the same time ... girls giving head in the boys' bathroom." Cameron wants to write "Rich Patterson sucks dick" on an overpass.
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"Fag," "piss off," "s--t," "dick," "asshole," "peckerhead," "hell," "f--king," "damn."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cameron hangs out in front of the liquor store, hoping someone will "toss him a can of beer from his six-pack." Cameron drinks so much "he couldn't feel the ground under his feet the whole way home." Cameron's dad was a violent drunk who hit the boys and their mother.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know this is a compelling story about bullying, fear, and violence. Written from the perspective of a victim of domestic violence and school bullying, the novel walks a thin line between creating a sympathetic character and condoning his resulting act of aggression. The narrative is nearly relentless in portraying Cameron's sense of helplessness (adult intervention just makes the situation worse; when the bully is expelled, Cameron still insists, "He runs the school") to the point where teens in similar situations may wonder if there really is any hope. The idea of being gay -- or "acting the fag" -- is portrayed in a negative way. Cameron feels powerful and even joyful when lighting fire. The character's desperation and lack of remorse make this a choice for older teens, and one that's worth discussing.
Is It Any Good?
Phillips adeptly gets into Cameron's head, effectively conveying the "can't-do-anything-about-it hopelessness building inside him" as school bullies step up their assaults. Adult readers will certainly hope no school allows this sort of violence, but Phillips doesn't offer many solutions to her grim situation. Teachers, parents, and counselors are ineffectual, if not dismissive of the gravity of the abuse.
It's a morally troubling book; readers want to sympathize with Cameron even as he becomes more and more emotionally disturbed. Secondary characters aren't well developed; perhaps this is intentional to emphasize Cameron's isolated perspective. When Cameron physically lashes out at another teen, the author seems inclined to forgive Cameron, with questionably little account for his victim. His guilt, in the eyes of the court, lies in his intention. Readers will have to decide if they agree that is justice or not.
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