Period.8 by Chris Crutcher
The problem with having too great a time span between reading Chris Crutcher books is that I forget how good they are. Forget how the fast-talking, conscience-driven teens can connect with teachers who care about them. Forget about how teens are always seeking answers to the real questions of their lives, and that this sometimes means that zombies and fantasy worlds have to take a back seat.
The real world question that opens Period.8 is about sexual cheating. The novel doesn’t mince words. When Paulie Bomb (Baum) confesses to his girlfriend Hannah that he has cheated, she asks for clarification: “‘Did you put your dick into someone who wasn’t me?’”
The thing is, Paulie could have gotten away with cheating–no one knew–but he doesn’t want to end up being a jerk like his dad, who is a serial cheater, one who makes Paulie’s mom pathetic in her need for him. In Period 8–which is something like a counseling session and not a regular class (no credit, no attendance and anyone can join)–Hannah lets everyone know what’s up. The guys argue that it’s their genetic destiny to cheat, and that their brains aren’t quite formed yet. The girls are not buying their excuses. When the students ask the teacher, Logs (Mr. Logsdon), about his experience with counseling and how well it worked, he answers, “‘I live with a cat.’” So yes, there’s humor in all this as well.
Unfortunately, teen romance and cheating aren’t the worst things that happen. An A student, Mary Wells, (aka ‘Virgin Mary’ because her dad is so strict and she is so perfect) appears to be missing although she’d never missed a day of school in four years. What happens to her and why is the mystery on which Period.8 is centered. That the madness involves Paulie and Hannah in ways that they can’t imagine, that the confidential cocoon of Period 8 appears to be violated, that people will be running for–and risking–their lives, makes this one a heartstopper.
High school housekeeping: The reading level is easy although there are many characters whose personalities must be sorted immediately. And the Lexile level (HL 660) doesn’t indicate how deeply Crutcher is willing to explore teen emotionality, the inner psyche, and the difficulty with long term relationships. Also, the wittiness of the banter among students and teacher is a cut above much YA novel dialogue. So on the whole, Period.8 works at many levels. It’s a great read for the reluctant reader with intrigue that will drive him or her along. For more sophisticated teen readers, the thoughtful discussion of relationships, not just romantic, but parent-child relationships`, will also add interest.
Bonus round: As in many of Crutcher’s books, several of the students (boys and girls) are athletes–swimmers, rowers, and wrestlers. There’s a lot of basketball action very well described. When the stuff hits the fan, the athletes push their ability to endure pain and fatigue to the outer limits, something that any true sportsperson can connect with.
OK–I admit it. I love Chris Crutcher. But this is my new favorite because it has all the edginess that teens now demand combined with all the author’s usual insights. Don’t miss this one!