A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the main character must deal with school bullies. At one point, he considers suicide and puts a gun in his mouth. His friend is tied down, stripped, and tormented. Someone takes pictures of a drunk, passed-out girl and posts them on the Internet. Also, there are references to drinking, drugs, and sex, as well as some swearing and violence. Nothing is graphic, but it's there. There are some gritty details, but Tyler ultimately makes a powerful journey. It's a terrific thing, and all too rare, to see a protagonist develop hard-won strength of character right before your eyes.
What's the story?
After years of being an unnoticed dweeb, Tyler gets noticed in high school when he spray-paints graffiti on the school. He also gets arrested and sentenced to a summer of community service, from which he earns a newly muscular physique from the labor, and a reputation as slightly dangerous.
For a while things are OK for Tyler: he is no longer afraid of bullies, and the hottest girl in school (daughter of his father's boss and sister of the worst bully) seem interested in him. But his father is verbally abusive, his mother an alcoholic, all of the adults in his life are suspicious of him, and the bullies are looking for a chance for revenge. And when his life spirals out of his control, he begins to think that his only options are the most drastic ones.
Is it any good?
At first, you'll think you've seen this before; but then you start to notice some intriguing differences. The dweeb is buff and has a police record, some of the adults actually seem to care, the siblings like each other, the little sister has a good head on her shoulders, and the teenaged main character has become an adult before he or any of the other characters have noticed. And it's not much longer before you're completely swept up into a story with powerful emotional resonance, in which the protagonist may actually see a light at the end of the tunnel before the reader does.
Author Laurie Anderson does a good job with her first try at getting inside the head of a boy and speaking in his voice. Everything rings true here, and Tyler has more than earned the sympathy of the reader long before he is pushed beyond what anyone should have to deal with. It's a terrific thing, and all too rare, to see a protagonist develop hard-won strength of character right before your eyes.
Talk to your kids about ...
In this book, Tyler has to deal with bullies. Does his experience seem realistic? At your school, what are some of the ways that kids get bullied? Do you think things have gotten harder for kids with the rise of cyberbullying? Parents who go down this path may want to consult our Cyberbullying Discussion Guide.
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