Friday, August 10, 2007
Shooter terrorizes a high school — A harrowing novel from a Chico teacher
By DAN BARNETT
Carrie Gordon Watson says on her Web site (www.cgwatson.com) that she is "a high school teacher and young adult author. I haven't always been a teacher, but I've always been a writer." The Chico resident writes to me that "my 20 years of observation in the classroom have definitely helped this novel to take shape. & We as a community need to engage in discussion about school violence."
In "Quad" ($16.99 in paper from Razorbill/Penguin), the violence begins in the first chapter. Ranger Ng, a high schooler in his middle teens, is dying for a Mountain Dew. So, steeling himself against the bullies he knows hang out in the quad of fictional Muir High, Ng walks to the student store to satisfy his craving.
Sure enough, Ng has to deal with the jocks, including Brad Calvert, clustering near the soda machine. But their repartee ends suddenly when the sounds of "pop, pop, pop" register on Ng's brain. He shouts for the jocks to get inside the store. "Adrenaline shot through Ranger's body, coming out of his mouth in a blast of credibility. A flurry of students dashed past him into the student store. & Ranger turned, saw the wave of fearful expressions. Who would do this? he wondered. Who would want to shoot up the quad?"
Turns out plenty would. Watson's novel is really about what leads up to the violence, how so many of those in high school are victims of the meanness of others. The story is told in staccato chapters that move from the shooting going on in the quad to incidents in the preceding weeks and back again. There's Stone, characterized by Ng's friend Rufus as "the head juicer — Mr. Captain-of-the-football-team himself," whom the girls lust after. Like Brittany Smith, Nicole McClintock, Hayley Banks. Shaped by a dysfunctional home life, Stone is a demanding charmer who doesn't quite know when to stop.
Others have cause for rage, too. Sage Wood and her friend Paisley Reed are the butts of cruel jokes. Theo the brain and Maggie the writer are outsiders who plot revenge. Perry has never gotten over Christopher and now Christopher is falling for Stone, of all people, whom he is convinced is falling for him.
The language of the book is raw teenager as the freaks, the jocks, the preps, the choirboys, the techies and drama queens are confronted by the consequences of their choices. There is no happy ending here, just the haunting question: What has become of our sons and daughters?
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.