Permanent Record

Book review by
Joe Applegate, Common Sense Media
Permanent Record Book Poster Image
Complex story about a Muslim teen confronting bullies.

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

Educational Value

Readers far removed from the immigrant experience will learn how bewildering it can be  to fit in as Americans. Confusions abound: Bud's parents, who decided to let their children choose careers for themselves, throw one son out of the house when he refuses to pursue an engineering degree. When Bud cannot in good conscience justify selling candy bars for a school fundraiser, his father goes to the school and buys $500 worth to make amends.


Positive Messages

Bullying thrives on secrecy and denial: That's what Bud learns after years of getting roughed up and making up one lie after another -- he hurt his jaw in a car accident, he fell off a trampoline in gym class -- to cover it up. Petty thefts and making firework-level explosives are Bud's way of fighting back, but these only get him into more trouble until he decides to stand up for himself and tell his friends and his psychiatrist exactly what he's going through. So there's a strong message to open up and talk about what's troubling you, and let responsible adults know if you're being bullied.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The model for decency in the novel is Bud himself. Even his desire for revenge never prompts the teen to hurt anyone. The psychiatrist Dr. Elliott, though nearly always in the background, delivers the moral weight of the story by insisting on the truth from Bud and by not punishing him when he withholds it. The doctor trusts that Bud will come around, and he does. 


Bud gets beaten up, sustains some bruises, and gets burned in a fireworks explosion (carrying the explosive away from bystanders he does not wish to get hurt). Property's blown up. There's also mention of a suicide attempt.


There's a moment of sexual attraction between Bud and his friend Nikki, and various references to kissing.


"F--k" and "s--t" occur four or five times. The racial slur "sand n----r" occurs twice.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and pot-smoking occur on the fringes of some school events and do not figure in the plot. Bud's older brother, however, smokes so much marijuana that his parents throw him out and hire professional cleaners to rid his room of the smell. No drug use is glamorized.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Permanent Record confronts high school bullying in an unusual and complex way. A super-bright teen fights back at the goons who mock his Iranian heritage and Muslim faith by becoming a crafty thief and learning to make explosive devices. The novel leaves the reader with an unsettling look at the injustices that result when racial stereotyping turns to mania. Two explosions in the book do no serious damage and the thefts are petty.    

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What's the story?

Bud Hess gets a fresh start at a straitlaced Catholic high school in Chicago after racial and religious heckling (his heritage is Iranian and Muslim) bedevil him into making a list of bullies at his old school and blowing up a bathroom toilet instead of them. Medication and psychiatry do not quell his defiance, and when cryptic messages appear in the school newspaper and some students get sick after drinking punch at homecoming, it appears Bud will take the fall. His fortunes reverse when he begins talking about his feelings instead of burying them.

Is it any good?

Author Leslie Stella succeeds in taking us into the psyche of a smart and well-meaning teen who's nearly driven mad by bullies obsessed with his Iranian Muslim heritage. "Telling people the truth about yourself is like daring them to screw with you," says 16-year-old Bud Hess, known as Badi Hessamizadeh before his father decided to change the boy's name to give him a fresh start.

Bud dominates the book; no other character comes to life, except perhaps his father, who's funny from a teen's point of view in trying so hard to do well by his son and failing so miserably. Some young readers will notice that Bud, who's ashamed of being bullied, gets no real help until he talks about it. With all its insights into one well-drawn character, the book offers a pretty routine plot and an ending that may be more implausible than surprising. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about racial and ethnic stereotypes and fears. Are there some people you're scared of just because of the way they look?

  • Bud's aunt speaks English perfectly but pretends to strangers that she knows zero English. She says it makes life easier. Why would that be?

  • You're a transportation safety inspector. How could you tell, just by looking, if someone is trying to sneak a dangerous object onto an airplane?

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