cover image The Brimstone Journals

The Brimstone Journals

Ron Koertge. Candlewick Press (MA), $15.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1302-0

Through poems, Koertge (Where the Kissing Never Stops) creates 15 separate narrators, all seniors at Branston (nicknamed ""Brimstone"") High School, struggling with major problems. Boyd, a white supremacist neglected by his alcoholic father, is staging a school shooting spree. Even the school nurse and at least one teacher are racist: ""Our homeroom teacher,/ Ms. Malone... / says black/ people have their own Heaven, but it's/ far enough away from ours so we won't/ have to listen to their music."" As Boyd prepares a target list (of ""everybody who/ ever blew me off, flipped me off,/ or pissed me off""), the other characters reach their own breaking points; some even consider buying guns from him to solve their troubles. While Koertge's pacing allows readers to sense the building tension, the brevity of the poems provides readers with little insight into the characters, so that they teeter on the edge of melodrama: Kitty is anorexic (""I think if I'm thin enough, I can fly""), Sheila wonders if she's a lesbian because she loves her best friend (""I want to go farther with Monica/ than just good-bye hugs""). Despite some memorable lines (""His dreams are like a box I cannot put down,"" says Tran, a Vietnamese teen who feels pressured by his immigrant father to become successful), the novel does not have enough heft to compensate for a cast that does not seem fully alive. Ages 14-up. (Feb.)