cover image Give a Boy a Gun

Give a Boy a Gun

Todd Strasser. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81112-8

Like Virginia Walter in Making Up Megaboy, Strasser (How I Changed My Life) explores the psyche of adolescents who use handguns to violent ends. Unfortunately, the format used here detracts from the central drama--10th-graders Gary Searle and Brendan Lawlor holding their classmates hostage with firearms and bombs. A portentous author's note (""One of the things I dislike most about guns in our society is that... they rob children of what we used to think of as a childhood"") prefaces an excerpt from Gary's suicide note, which is followed by comments from one Denise Shipley, who is studying journalism at the state university and returns to Middletown High ""determined not to leave again until I understood what had happened there."" The bulk of the novel is comprised of quotes Denise has collected from, among others, the two 10th-graders' parents, teachers and classmates, including nemesis Sam Flach, a football player whose knees they shatter with bullets. These quotes, however, seem arbitrarily arranged into sections; scattered and disconnected, the quotes build little momentum and the overall effect is numbing. Running along the foot of many of the pages are distracting excerpts from the media, Internet postings and statistics from unattributed sources (e.g., ""The number of kids killed by firearms has quadrupled in the past ten years""). The revelation in Denise's closing note (that she is Gary's stepsister) and the author's ""Final Thoughts"" (""It will be your job to keep these ideas alive"") provide a heavy-handed ending that may be more off-putting than eye-opening. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)