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by Adam Rapp

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: April 15th, 2002
ISBN: 1-886910-72-3

Rapp’s (The Copper Elephant, 1999, etc.) bleakest tragicomedy yet piles physical abuse, sexual abuse, and vicious peer harassment onto and into the head of a broken 11-year-old. Readers first meet Blacky Brown stumbling naked through the woods, having just been molested by Al Johnson, his mother’s latest boyfriend. His own family, from which his cruel father has long departed, features a clinically depressed, eczema-ridden mother, drug- and alcohol-abusing big sister Shay, and, to throw everyone else’s dysfunction into sharper relief, a genius-level little brother completely focused on keeping his head down. After it becomes clear that Al is just going to get a slap on the wrist from the authorities, Blacky makes the mistake of coming clean to a supposed friend, and becomes an instant outsider at school, subjected to significant gestures and murmurs of “skank” that escalate into attacks with red paint, and finally an after-school ambush. Blacky observes his own increasingly erratic thoughts and behavior (some of which, in another context, would be funny) with the same numb, present-tense detachment with which he describes, in precise detail, the violence done to him by Al and others. What allies he does manage to gather wind up either moving out or being taken away—leaving him alone with the gun he buys from an acquaintance of Shay’s for a “hand-job” and loose change. In the end, Blacky uses the gun to frighten off his attackers, but then discards it as just another dead end, and is last seen charging off into the woods again, toward an ambiguous, perhaps short, future. Blacky’s quixotic innocence survives it all, but Rapp has so stacked the odds against him that readers will wonder whether that’s going to be enough to carry him through. (Fiction. YA)