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GIVE A BOY A GUN

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 6 months ago

5/24/2000 GIVE A BOY A GUN by Todd Strasser, Simon & Schuster BFYR, September 2000

 

I painfully recall those couple of years in my early adolescence when I really got pushed around a lot. For me it was junior high in the late 60's when I'd be constantly harassed by older or bigger kids. Walk down the hall or down the stairs and get tripped or shoved into a locker or have your books slammed out of your arms sending your papers flying everywhere. Sit on the school bus and be whacked with a book by a passerby or have your hat snatched. Occasionally I remember an even bigger kid coming along and asserting his dominance over the bully who was picking on me -- yep, that was me, the bottom of the food chain--but usually these incidents became solitary, painful memories of the time when I was a good, quiet student treading water in a sea of raging hormones.

 

I cannot recall ever having the urge to exact revenge (beyond a hand gesture). But, then again, it was a time that, in retrospect, seemed to pass soon enough as I came into my own in high school. But what would I have been like if I'd had to endure year after year of such torture through high school as well as junior high?

 

In GIVE A BOY A GUN by Todd Strasser, we meet two teenage boys who, after enduring years of torture by their school's most popular students, do take revenge. In a fictional account which recalls real-life school shootings in Littleton (CO), Jonesboro (AK), and Springfield (OR), the two teens take a group of students and teachers hostage at a dance in the high school gymnasium.

 

Strasser presents the story in the form of quotes by the teens (Brendan Lawlor and Gary Searle) as well as their friends, their tormentors and other schoolmates, current and former teachers, their parents and neighbors.

 

At the foot of many pages the author provides us with facts concerning gun availability, violence and manufacture as well as quotes relating to those tragic real episodes which have been occurring in schools across America. (Information Strasser has compiled includes the federal estimate that there are roughly 250 million people and 240 million firearms in America, that 12 percent of students say they know another student who has brought a gun to school, and that in 1996 there were more than 6,000 American students expelled for bringing a gun to school.)

 

In the story we learn how the physical and verbal abuse heaped daily upon the two teens by popular football players and the in-crowd is tolerated by the faculty. We meet teachers who, themselves, treat the unpopular kids as outcasts in the classroom. As Allison Findley (Gary's girlfriend) points out: "If Deirdre Bunsun is talking in world history, it's like 'Excuse me, Deirdre, now pay attention.' But if Allison Findley is talking, Ms. Arnold stops the class and stares at her. And then the rest of the kids stare at her. It's a light slap on the wrist for Dierdre, it's public humiliation for Allison."

 

We come to understand how Brendan, Gary, and their little circle of friends seek to escape from unremitting daily reinforcement of the message that they are worthless vermin. We hear from Gary's mom who was concerned about his spending the better part of Saturdays "cocooned within his quilt." We learn how Brendan grows up hating and reacting to injustices, is at one point compared to Rosa Parks by an old friend, and tries to take out his aggressions on video games. We see transcripts of their chatroom discussions. We hear how over a period of years the boys' desire to kill the kids who are torturing them evolves from the relatively innocent anger of youngsters to the determined and complicated planning that leads to the story's climactic evening in the gymnasium. Allison Findley wonders at one point about the darkness that she has seen developing in Brendan: "I don't know where it came from. Whether it had always been inside him, or whether it just started to grow because of the way people treated him in school."

 

Several of the story's most insightful quotes are from an overburdened school counselor, Beth Bender, who survives that night in the gym: "And that's when I had an epiphany. Can't you see why they were doing it? They had no protection. They couldn't get away from the bullies and tormentors. Not here, not in jail, not anywhere. So why not kill them? So why not kill themselves? What difference would it make either way? In another passage Beth refutes the assertion that this was an unpreventable act by crazies. "Every year you hear about kids walking into their school and shooting classmates and teachers. You don't hear about them walking into McDonald's and shooting people. They don't go to the town swimming pool or the movies and do it. Most of these kids live in neighborhoods with elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. But they don't go to some other school. They always go to their own school. It's not random. It's a message, and the sooner we wake up and listen, the better.

 

A message I got from GIVE A BOY A GUN is that, in this situation, both sides were victims and both sides were perpetrators. A message that Beth wants us to hear is that parents, teachers, administrators, and thoughtful students with influence on their peers need to begin the process of instituting programs and procedures to teach conflict resolution, to teach respect for one another's differences, and to prohibit the teasing, the physical and the verbal abuse that we see Gary and Brendan having to endure from all the way back in grade school. There needs to be zero tolerance of name-calling and the other abuse these boys are subjected to. Of course, the book's other theme is the gun issue. It appears that the debate over guns in America will continue beyond my lifetime, but, clearly, the fact that temperamental, hormonal teenagers are so easily able to obtain guns is an issue that has got to be addressed sooner rather than later.

 

Todd Strasser surely has written one of the year's most thought-provoking books. Fail to read it at your own risk. Simon & Schuster is marketing the book for ages 12 and up. Parents and educators of younger children should read the book themselves and share the messages.

 

Richie Partington

Richie's Picks

BudNotBuddy@aol.com

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