Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Games: A Tale of Two Bullies by Carol Gorman (3 1/2 stars out of 4)--
Some books are obviously not in my world of experience. Books like Because of Winn Dixie and Number the Stars are good reads, and good plots, but I'm not a girl, I don't own a dog, I don't live in the South, I wasn't involved with the Holocaust (not being born at the time) and I don't hide out from the authorities. However, when a book does invade my space and get up close and personal, I react differently. A certain malaise envelops me, I tell my wife, “I’m not sure I like this novel,” I feel anxiety well up inside of me when I reach the climax of each plot complication. I had this uncomfortable-but-not-unpleasant reaction when I read Games: A Tale of Two Bullies by Carol Gorman, so for that reason alone, I recommend it. But it has other noteworthy attributes besides its striking verisimilitude.
Games: A Tale of Two Bullies is the story of two eighth graders, Mick Sullivan and Boot (real name Bart) Quinn, and their road to either understanding or the hospital. They cannot stop fighting with each other, and their epic struggle captures the attention of the school and Tabitha Slater, the cutest young lady at school. Each of the protagonists has problems at home, and those problems contribute significantly to many of the issues the young men face, although it is generally understood that each individual is ultimately responsible for his actions. Mick is a budding intellectual who is not accustomed to all of the attention with which he is lavished due to the rivalry: “I’ve never been so popular. Of course, on a scale of zero to ten, I guess it’s not all that impressive to go from zero to three and a half. But if all you’ve ever experienced is zero, then let me tell you, the difference of a few points feels like a meteoric climb” (78). Boot is a bit more pragmatic and is surrounded by a rather bleak home life: “Nobody’s home, as usual. Mom took off three years ago . . . I miss her, even though she wasn’t home much. I don’t tell my dad, though. He blows up every time he thinks about her, and when he’s mad, it’s good to stay out of his way” (27). A new principal decides to assign Boot and Mick board games together in the office every day so they can get along and stop fighting. Their friends are fascinated and they become “stars,” capturing the attention of the manipulative but charming Tabitha. Every time they seem ready to call a truce, their friends egg them on to new behavioral highs and lows.
I remember what it was like to be an eighth grader, and I see parts of both Mick and Boot in my childhood and family life. I knew a Tabitha in eighth grade (her name was Leslie), and although she seems to want to live vicariously through others a bit too much, reality television has made all of us voyeurs. More than that, this novel effectively captures the group and peer pressure, bravado, insecurity, overconfidence, fear, and coming-of-age anxiety of eighth grade very well. I felt it myself as I was reading; there is no better recommendation. The alternating narration between the two characters is effective, because the reader must know the minds and backgrounds of both characters to maximize the novel’s tension. Games: A Tale of Two Bullies by Carol Gorman (author of the Dork series) could be read as an account of what happens when young people come from at-risk homes, but it is much more satisfying to watch the characters make their own mistakes and find their own solutions, instead of simply seeing them as products of their respective environments.


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