Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Did you know that parents with a lot of money can send problem kids to private schools that operate like Army boot camps? The parents want their kids to be "whipped into shape" and to come back better behaved, and the boot camps can pretty much do whatever they want to the kids. It's kind of like being sent to prison without being legally convicted of a crime. Todd Strasser wrote this fiction book about a 15-year-old kid who really isn't a bad guy who gets sent to one of these abusive schools. His parents sent him away because he was dating an older woman who happened to also be one of his teachers. Garrett faces both physical and psychological abuse, but he refuses to admit that he did anything wrong. His stubbornness just gets him more abuse. Garrett eventually attempts and escape, but things don't turn out like you might expect. I don't think Strasser's books are particularly well-written, but he knows how to hit on topics of great interest to kids and how to put together a story that keeps kids reading. It's not a book for everyone—it's got violence and abuse and it's not a happy story at all. I suspect that some kids will really like it and others will want nothing to do with it. But if you do read it, I'm sure you will want to learn more about these Boot Camps and how they get away with what they do.
This fiction book reminded me a lot of Red Scarf Girl, which is a nonfiction book. Both books are about young Chinese girls caught up in the Cultural Revolution. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party is about Ling, the only daughter of two doctors. When the book opens life is pretty good, but little by little things get worse after Comrade Li moves into Ling's family's apartment. He is the voice of the communist party and is looking for people he can get into trouble. Neighbors get taken away to work camps and publicly beaten, and Ling's own father is taken away to prison. The book covers four years of Ling's life in this oppressive government system. I thought the events and historical aspects were very interesting, but to kids with no background in Chinese history I think much of it would be hard to follow. I also found that I didn't really feel emotionally attached to Ling. There was something distant in her way of narrating the book that left me disconnected. The writing is good and it is an interesting time period to learn about, but since it was a fiction book I wanted more. I had the impression that the author probably was telling a true story, and if that is the case, I would have preferred to read the nonfiction version. I will be very curious to know if kids read and like this book.