Why does a seemingly nice boy become violent? Narrator Paul, an “army brat,” starts with many counts against him. His parents have recently divorced, his military father has rejected him, and his mother relies on Paul for serious emotional support. Mother and son have moved so that the mother can take a low-paying office job at an exclusive Christian high school. But as an employee’s son, Paul is harassed by the nasty rich kids, with the exception of a non-conformist named Binky. When Charlie (a golden boy with a Machiavellian nature) befriends him, Paul will do anything to be part of his popular crowd. It’s clear to the reader, and spelled out by Binky, that Charlie is using Paul, ultimately to commit a crime that lands Paul in the justice system. Unfortunately, Charlie’s motivations are obscure. Is he angry with his pushy parents? Or just naturally evil? Paul has reasons to lash out, but he is excessively clueless, apparently because he was home-schooled, and is not especially likable. All adults are portrayed as selfish and irresponsible, including the administrators who ignore a decapitated dog and a suicide at the school. But even with his bleak surroundings, it’s hard to believe Paul would carry out the terrible felony. The story does build suspense, and teenagers will recognize cruel aspects of high school, but unlike Flinn’s Breathing Underwater (2000), which broke new ground about date violence, this novel is just one more variation on the familiar theme of paying a high price for popularity. (Fiction. YA)
"We may need to plant a bomb in Old Lady Zaller's classroom."
These simple words will change Paul Richmond's life forever. Paul is new to Gate, a school whose rich students make life miserable for anyone not like them. And Paul is definitely not like them. Then something incredible happens. Charlie Good, a star student and athlete, invites Paul to join his elite inner circle. All Charlie wants is a few things in return -- small things that Paul does willingly. And then, one day, Charlie wants something big. How far will Paul go to fit in?
Alex Flinn was born in Glen Cove, New York. Before going to law school, she received a degree in vocal performance (opera) from the University of Miami. She practiced law for ten years before becoming a full-time author. She based her first book, Breathing Underwater, on her experiences interning with the State Attorney's Office and volunteering with battered women. Breathing Underwater, which is about dating violence, won the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award in 2004. She has written several books including Diva, Nothing to Lose, Fade to Black, and A Kiss in Time. Her current title Beastly has been published in three editions and made Publishers Weekly best seller list.
(Bowker Author Biography)
Gr. 7-10. Handicapped by his compromised status at a rich kids' private high school--he is new and his mother works at the school--Paul longs for social acceptance. His estranged father won't return his phone calls. His emotionally fragile mother relies on him in spite of his youth. Eventually, Charlie, one of the most prestigious kids on campus, seems to court him as a friend. Paul's escapades with Charlie, however, have a distinctly dangerous side; there's a mailbox-bashing incident followed by hacking into the school computer. Paul feels suspicious about some campus events, and he is particularly sickened by the school's response to a suicide. A final conflagration brings Charlie's motives into clear focus, but by then, it's too late. Flinn returns to themes of abusive teen relationships that she explored in her debut novel Breathing Underwater (2001). Grim and emotional, this is cathartic reading for teens who wonder how anyone could have a worse set of circumstances than their own. Francisca Goldsmith
Publisher's Weekly Review
Heavy-handed writing undermines Flinn's (Breathing Underwater) stated goal for her second novel, namely, to "stimulate discussion" among teens about why kids commit violent acts. When geeky ex-homeschooler Paul Richmond enrolls as a sophomore at an exclusive Miami private school, he is immediately targeted for harassment. Living in a shabby apartment with his needy, newly divorced mother (her job in the school office lowers Paul's tuition), Paul would feel miserable even if the jocks weren't calling him "faggot" and trashing his locker. Then popular Charlie Good suddenly befriends him outside of school, that is and Paul seems willing to do anything to stay in favor. First Paul vandalizes mailboxes, then he hacks into the school computer system to change Charlie's transcript. Charlie's hold on Paul intensifies until he persuades Paul to plant a bomb in the school. Characterizations are stock, and no one, particularly not the all-powerful Charlie, seems convincing. The boys' reasons for wanting to blow up the school remain murky, and many of Flinn's devices, like the school sermons that parallel the plot, are contrived. For a more developed treatment of similar themes, readers may appreciate Gail Giles's Shattering Glass, reviewed Feb. 11. Ages 13-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Gr 7 Up-Being the new kid in school is always difficult, but it is especially hard for a scholarship student now in an exclusive Christian school where his divorced mother is the secretary. From the first day, Paul Richmond has problems with the charismatic leader of the in crowd, Charlie Goode. As the year progresses, he is tormented and verbally abused, but finds himself caught up in Charlie's group, which "courts" him in the evenings. A couple of other students try to warn him about his new friends, but outsider Paul is much too happy about being included to heed their warnings. The plot intensifies when Paul helps Charlie change grades on the school computers and set a bomb in one of the classrooms. No one is hurt, but Paul discovers that he has been set up as the scapegoat, and he recounts the events that lead to his arrest and imprisonment. In this intense story of peer pressure and the need to be accepted, the characters are realistically drawn and reflect the nature of high school relationships. Flinn states in her author's note that she wrote about one young man who reached his breaking point and that she has tried to understand what makes teens feel so angry, fearful, and isolated that they commit acts of violence. She has succeeded in her goal. Despite his actions, Paul comes across as a likable, although misguided, teen in a book that is well worth reading.-Janet Hilbun, formerly at Sam Houston Middle School, Garland, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.