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BUCKING THE SARGE by Christopher Paul Curtis Kirkus Star


by Christopher Paul Curtis

Age Range: 10 - 16

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 2004
ISBN: 0-385-32307-7
Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Luther’s hard-driving mother, “Sarge,” has built personal life and financial empire (slum housing, group homes, loan sharking business) through belief in two things: herself and money. Luther is exploited no less than her “clients.” At 13, he got a forged driver’s license and the responsibility for running The Happy Neighbor Group Home for Men. Years later, Luther’s life is a grind of responsibility at the home and striving at school. When Luther’s science fair project—on the dangers of lead paint—promises to cost Sarge (whose apartments are painted with it) money and jail time, she ruthlessly cuts him adrift. In a conclusion that avoids contrivance through his comic use of organizational list-making, Luther, who is thoroughly decent despite everything, shrewdly gets all he’s owed and declares his independence. In Curtis’s hands, this is darkly funny as he deftly paints his Runyonesque cast of characters as broadly as the side of the Buick Riviera driven by Darnell, Sarge’s “rent-a-thug.” Told in Luther’s jivey, colloquial voice, enriched by Curtis’s cast of large-hearted survivors, and enlivened by his coruscating style, this is another winner—or, as Luther might say, a “three-peat.” (Fiction. 10-16)