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Teens face violence, racism on a road trip to redemption.

What parents need to know

Educational value

May spark some passionate discussions about the roots of racism -- what has changed and what the world is like today.

Positive messages

Three teen boys unknowingly seek understanding and redemption after a terrible tragedy ignites racial tensions.

Positive role models

Henry is a relatable character. He decides to climb the mountain to prove he's a man -- and because his brother had challenged him to do it before he died. But through this journey he is able to come of age in a different way, by coming into a greater understanding of the person he really wants to be.


A gruesome car accident in which a boy's arm is torn off; another boy is shot; arson; four boys beat another unconscious; a boy is cut with a broken glass bottle; several fist fights. A dog is beaten and starved. A mention of rape.

Not applicable

A Cambodian is taunted and called "gook."


Car and cookie brands mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A woman smokes, men drink beer.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book will encourage teens to think about racism and what its effects can be. The central event is a gruesome accident in which a boy's arm is torn off, and from which he eventually dies.  There is racial bullying, name-calling, and other violence -- but teens will be moved by the story here as three teen boys seek understanding and redemption.

Parents say

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What's the story?

When Henry's older brother Franklin is killed in a car accident, Henry decides to go ahead with their planned trip to climb Mt. Katahdin. Along the way Henry -- accompanied by his best friend, his dog, and his brother's accused killer, a Cambodian refugee -- learns more about Franklin's real nature, the fateful accident, the wider world, and himself.

Is it any good?


As in his previous novels, Schmidt throws a lot of complexity and subplots in here, and this time not all of them are a comfortable fit or lead anywhere.

There are horror stories that involve werewolves, vampires, and other monsters of myth and fantasy, creatures that crawl out of overwrought imaginations and nighttime fears. And then there are the horror stories that involve the ordinary, everyday ways that human beings treat and mistreat one another. The first type can be fun, if you have a taste for that sort of thing. The second, especially in the hands of a master, is simply horrific; the kind of thing that, while you are reading it or thinking about it, makes it hard to breathe, or swallow, or see clearly through unshed tears.

And that's just the first half of what is really two stories in one novel. The second half, considerably lighter than the first, though not without its own horrors, is the road trip of three teen boys, each of them unknowingly seeking understanding and redemption. All the different subplots are fascinating, and each, such as a crew race or the discovery of the wreckage of a slave ship, has metaphorical resonance with the main story. Schmidt has emerged as a writer of rare power who spins emotionally and intellectually complex tales in a gorgeously literary style that makes every scene, every setting, every passing breeze, spring vividly and completely to life.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about this book's theme. Do the tensions between the Cambodians and white people seem authentic? How do they compare to the racial tensions that exist in your own school or community?

  • Readers who have finished Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars might want to compare and contrast the two books. How would you describe the author's writing style?

Book details

Author:Gary D. Schmidt
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Clarion Books
Publication date:April 21, 2008
Number of pages:297
Publisher's recommended age(s):12

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 15 years old Written by(; <3 May 16, 2012


I think that this is a really good book. I think this because i have friends who have had, what goes on throughout the book, happen to them. It's sad at time's when i know they are gone from school, and it is because of their arm. But i really like this book because it inspires me. It inspires me by making me thank for what i have and hope for the best that the others do not.
Teen, 13 years old Written byJessi21 October 31, 2010

This book is sooo good, everyone should read it of all ages.

I think the book tTrouble by Gary Schmidt sends a positive message, not a negative message. This book teaches about racial issues. This teaches kids that you should never treat each other unfailry. It also teaches that just because someone is different from you, doesn't mean that you can't be friends. I have no clue why some of you give it the ratings you do because of beer and rape and violence, because your children are going to learn about it one day. It's best they learn about it in a fiction book. And heck, many of them already know about alot of the stuff in the book, but they just don't tell you. Take it from me, a girl who just turned 13. This book is perfect for anyone who wants a good book to read. No matter what the age.
What other families should know
Great messages
Parent of a 11 year old Written bythager April 9, 2008

A really great book for discussing racism

The racism in this book is apalling and makes for a great discussion with kids - for both blatant racism and more subtle racism, like what goes on in the school in this story. The anguished question from the Father in this story about whether his dead son would have become a good man is also a thought provoking discussion point - especially for older teens.


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