I’m thinking about my book talks with Read 180 classes tomorrow. I read Give a Boy a Gun for the first time last night–it stands the time of time. Still compelling.
Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser
“One of the things I used to like about writing books for young people was that it wasn’t necessary to deal with murder, adultery, and various other immoral or criminal activities that seem mandatory in adult novels these days. I find it sad and frightening that this is no longer the case.”
Author’s Note from Give a Boy a Gun
When Denise Shipley learns that her neighbor Gary Searle is dead of a gunshot wound after joining Brendan Lawlor in shooting classmates in his high school, she goes home to Middletown to find out why. This fictional character’s fictional interviews with the locals are interspersed with emails and characters’ diaries. Much like footnotes, factual information from real newspapers and magazines runs along the bottom of the pages. The information is about guns, semi-automatic weapons, and special bullets meant to cause severe damage. It is also about incidents of gun violence.
What we learn from one of the shooters (Gary’s) ex-girlfriend, Allison, is that while the boys seem sexy when they become more dangerous, they are also—well, dangerous. There is a sixth sense that tells her to stand down. From the one friend of the shooters, Ryan, we learn that they are progressively getting more and more into drugs. From football player William, we see the point of view that athletes who bully the loners/awkward students deserve special treatment as athletes are the ones who work incredibly hard to win games and create an atmosphere of school spirit.
But no matter how anyone frames it or makes excuses, the school culture, the country’s gun culture, and the mental states of Gary and Brendan all collide into a sickening catastrophe. Innocent victims, like caged animals, have no way out when the shooting begins.
High school housekeeping: Strasser does a good job of showing how complicated are the events and relationships that lead up to a tragedy like a school shooting. He doesn’t provide easy answers, but he does give you a riveting climax. Although Give a Boy a Gun is fictional, it’s easy to see connections to the (Littleton, Colorado) Columbine High School shooting tragedy which was also committed by two boys who hoped to wipe the school off the face of the map. However, in the years since Columbine, more information has come out about the shooters, much of it indicating that they were neither loners nor friendless. For a good nonfiction connection to Strasser’s novel, you could read Columbine by David Cullen. Keep in mind that the two books were written for different audiences. Give a Boy a Gun is for high school readers, with a 760 Lexile level (about sixth grade reading level). So it’s a good choice for reluctant or struggling readers. Columbine is an adult work, long and detailed, based on research. Yet the Lexile website also gives it a 760 Lexile level—exactly the same as Give a Boy a Gun. I have to say that this surprises me. But if you have the ability to stick it, it’s a great read, and exactly the sort of thing that the framers of the Common Core would like you to try for ‘informational text’ (nonfiction). Check my review here to get an overview of the book.