The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne Book Poster Image
Teens try to prove tough teacher is a drug dealer.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This is a book that teens will enjoy reading -- and the open-ended conclusion could lead to some spirited discussions.

Positive Messages

Calma's and Kiffo's friendship feels authentic and touching, and it remains in the reader's thoughts after the last page is turned. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Calma is a smart, creative, funny girl, but even she gets sucked into making some poor choices. Still the teens here are sympathetic, and their friendship authentic.


A woman punches a dog, a car and motorcycle accident, Calma has violent fantasies involving guns, mentions of abuse, death of a major character.


Calma sees up a boy's shorts, her mother asks if she is having sex, she is accused of having a lesbian crush on a teacher, she mentions her large breasts several times, a reference to masturbation.


A fair amount, including "f---k" and "s--t."


Several products mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens and adults smoke and drink; a teacher may or may not be dealing heroin.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book is about teens who try to prove their teacher is a drug dealer -- and they are not afraid to stalk her to do it. These very sympathetic teens have very bad attitudes toward adults, authority, and school, caused (in Kiffo's case) by an abusive father and a brother dead of a drug overdose, and (in Calma's case) by a missing dad and a mom with two jobs who's pretty much absent from her life. There's plenty of swearing and bad behavior, and an ambiguous ending that may frustrate some readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byChicketi July 25, 2009
I actually really enjoyed it and I read it when I was about 16 maybe. I thought it was a beautifully written book filled with sad realities and harsh lessons a... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMCR583 April 9, 2008

great book

this book, dispite the sexual referencs, violentce, etc. was a very well witten, entertaining book. i hate 2 read, but with this book, i actualy wanted 2 read... Continue reading

What's the story?

Calma is a bright, talented student. Her best friend, Kiffo, is the opposite, except for a talent for theft and driving teachers crazy. After he does this (literally) to their English teacher, the replacement, Miss Payne, seems out to get him, and she's too tough for him to take on directly. So he decides to break into her house and trash it for revenge. But in her house he discovers clues that lead him to conclude that she is an underworld drug dealer, and he and Calma decide to follow her to get proof. Unlike most literary teen sleuths, they're realistically not very good at it, and soon are facing police accusations of stalking. And when it begins to look like they were completely wrong, Calma wants to quit. But Kiffo won't let go, leading them both into tragedy and a final twist.

Is it any good?

It's always exciting to see a first-timer with major talent appear on the scene, and author Barry Jonsberg is all that and more. This is a passionate, complex, humorous, and moving story with some satisfying plot twists and a truth that is only gradually revealed. Told in the first person by Calma, it has a witty, sardonic voice and gritty realism.

It also has plenty of rookie mistakes. The narrative goes off in too many directions, and the pointlessly ambiguous ending will frustrate many readers. Jonsberg also seems determined, as many first-time authors are, to throw in every good idea he's ever had: funny horoscope entries, imagined movie dialogue, flashbacks, last-minute revelations, comedy, tragedy, letters, essays, etc. But the core of the story, Calma's and Kiffo's friendship, feels authentic and touching, and it remains in the reader's thoughts after the last page is turned.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the tone of this book. How did the humorous voice mix with the darker material? How would you classify this book?

  • What did you think about the book's ambiguous ending? Why do you think the author left it open? Did you like this -- or did it frustrate you? Can you think of other books or movies that end this way? 

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