As the New York Times (12/3/15) reports that mass shootings now take place on average more than once a day, this timely collection of short stories and essays by some big name teen writers takes on the topic of guns and gun culture.
The book opens with a prologue and strong nonfiction essays by Marc Aronson, Will Weaver and Chris Crutcher reflecting on the place of guns in their families. For me, as an adult, this was the most resonant writing in the book and I would have liked more of it. (I would also have liked the statistics to have been source-noted).
The theme of the 13 stories comes from the subtitle of the book, Power and Pain. In most of the stories, the protagonist is an underdog, bullied or abused, and he or she seeks out the power embodied in a gun to redress the balance. Nearly all reach the conclusion that nothing good comes of using a gun, or the power of the gun.
With the notable exception of Walter Dean Myers’ urban Roach, the stories have rural or suburban settings. There is a roughly even split between male and female protagonists, though I think those with young women leads are largely more compelling.
For me, stand out stories include The Babysitters by Jenny Hubbard about the fallout from a school shooting, Ron Koertge’s quirky fable in which two deer hire a human bodyguard for the hunting season, and The Gunslinger by Peter Johnson in which a young woman buys a gun to get vengeance on the boy who raped her. I also enjoyed Elizabeth Wein’s tale set in World War II Scotland, the only story with a historical setting, and Eric Shanower ‘s whimsical comic strip on Cupid’s weaponry.
None of the stories are real duffers, though Joyce Carol Oates’ Heartbreak is overlong and Certified Deactivated by Chris Lynch doesn’t quite take off. I really liked the beginning of Alex Flinn’s story about a gun-loving girl, but felt it could have have taken a much more interestingly direction than a zombie apocalypse.
As we all try “to make some sense of (guns’) place in our national life” (Will Weaver), this collection of cautionary tales is a worthwhile and important read for teens.