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 protagonist deals with serious abuse at the hands of his mother's live-in boyfriend. Fourteen-year-old John is an easy character to feel sorry for and root for as he deals with everyday problems, and larger ones, like the abuse. Alienated and angry, John briefly considers suicide. Some profanity and sexual references as well.
What's the story?
John, 14, describes his life, filled with the usual teen miseries: he has a crush on a manipulative, selfish girl, he doesn't understand algebra, he has no good friends, and he is alienated both at school and at home. But he also has a more serious problem: his mother's live-in boyfriend, referred to only as "the man who is not my father," beats him regularly, and may be involved in criminal activities. In the course of this book, John has a more disastrous than usual date with the girl of his dreams, his "friend who is not a friend" is arrested for shoplifting, and he is given a tuba solo in the school band. But then his mother has to leave town to deal with a dying relative, and John is left alone with her abusive boyfriend.
Is it any good?
This is a stunning combination of brilliantly sardonic teen observation, lyrical writing, and anger. Like teen protagonists before him, all the way back to Holden Caulfield, John notices above all the falseness and hypocrisy around him, but his descriptions of each moment, ruthlessly parsed, are uniquely creative, at times almost surrealistic.
Some of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny, so the denouement comes as even more of a shock. John's problems may get a bit melodramatic at the end, but by then the reader is so immersed in his character that it is moving nonetheless. Sharply observed, and with a powerful voice, this is David Klass' best novel yet.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the heavy theme of this book. Is it important for kids -- even those who have never had to deal with an abusive home life -- to read John's story? Why or why not?
How do you think the author handled the descriptions of violence? Were they appropriate for the story? This book is targeted to 12 and up -- does it seem appropriate for this age group?
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