Thursday, August 30

Give a Boy a Gun - Todd Strasser

Told almost solely through fragments from suicide notes, chat transcript , email extracts and quotes from parents, neighbours, classmates and friends, and with facts about gun death in America scattered throughout the text, Give a Boy a Gun tells the unfolding (and fictional) story of two teenage boys who planned and committed a Columbine-style school shooting.
As expected, there's a strong emphasis on the contribution easy availability of guns has had on the body count and escalating frequency of these attacks, and an equally strong emphasis on the role that social inequity and high school culture has on the perpetrators - ostracised outsiders who were relentlessly picked on by football stars, and the two-tier rules that applied to them and to the lesser mortals.
The writing is sympathetically inclined toward the boys, with some members of staff and some of the popular kids perpetuating, even in the aftermath, the attitudes that helped bring the boys to that point.
The style is effective, and (despite what I've just written above) provides a more even-handed reading than a more conventional approach would have. At the same time, though, I found myself less than fully engaged with the plot, and the style did distance me from the boys - even though they were represented through the suicide notes and extracts of emails and online chat. I've seen Bowling for Columbine nine times, and still get choked up, but I didn't feel emotional connected to Give a Boy a Gun until I got to the list of gun-related deaths at the end. I suspect that some of that is due to my nationality - there have been a handful of any kind of mass shootings in the last twenty years, and none like this; and my high school experience was certainly so different from the one portrayed that I don't have common ground. But I also think that this book, a significant departure from Strasser's usual fare, with the exception of his ground-breaking novel (also based on real life events) The Wave, doesn't offer anything new, which may in part be due to the time of publication (2000, two years before Moore's comprehensive documentary). - Alex

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