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by Alex Flinn

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: May 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-623847-1
Publisher: HarperCollins

Why does a seemingly nice boy become violent? Narrator Paul, an “army brat,” starts with many counts against him. His parents have recently divorced, his military father has rejected him, and his mother relies on Paul for serious emotional support. Mother and son have moved so that the mother can take a low-paying office job at an exclusive Christian high school. But as an employee’s son, Paul is harassed by the nasty rich kids, with the exception of a non-conformist named Binky. When Charlie (a golden boy with a Machiavellian nature) befriends him, Paul will do anything to be part of his popular crowd. It’s clear to the reader, and spelled out by Binky, that Charlie is using Paul, ultimately to commit a crime that lands Paul in the justice system. Unfortunately, Charlie’s motivations are obscure. Is he angry with his pushy parents? Or just naturally evil? Paul has reasons to lash out, but he is excessively clueless, apparently because he was home-schooled, and is not especially likable. All adults are portrayed as selfish and irresponsible, including the administrators who ignore a decapitated dog and a suicide at the school. But even with his bleak surroundings, it’s hard to believe Paul would carry out the terrible felony. The story does build suspense, and teenagers will recognize cruel aspects of high school, but unlike Flinn’s Breathing Underwater (2000), which broke new ground about date violence, this novel is just one more variation on the familiar theme of paying a high price for popularity. (Fiction. YA)