Category Archives: short stories

Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart

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taking aimTaking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart
HarperTeen, 2015.

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.

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The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War; illustrated by Jim Kay

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greatwarThe Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War; illustrated by Jim Kay
Candlewick, 2015.

It is hard to make World War One relevant to contemporary kids, particularly American ones; this handsome collection, is a valiant attempt to do that by focusing on the short and long-term effects that the war has on different children.

These eleven exceptional stories, written by authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Marcus Sedgwick and Tanya Lee Stone, are each inspired by a military or civilian object. These come mostly from the Imperial War Museum collection and include a war-time butter dish with an inscription from the prime minister, a Victoria Cross, sheet music and a soldier’s writing case.Great War Warhorsefield

Most are set in England, but there are also stories from Ireland, France, America, and Australia. Some take place during or immediately after the war and others in more contemporary times. Each looks at the toll, both direct and oblique, that the conflict has on a child, and how it transformed everyone’s life, rarely for the better. This is particularly poignant in Sheena Wilkinson’s quietly moving “Each Slow Dusk” as well as A. L. Kennedy’s more immediate “Another Kind of Missing”.

great war tankBinding the collection together are Jim Kay’s (A Monster Calls, 2011) exquisitely beautiful ink and charcoal war scenes, which are shown both as double page spreads and then as shards and splatters across other pages.

Back matter includes photographs of the objects with accompanying information, and short bios of the writers.

Like the similarly intentioned Above the Dreamless Dead, this was originally published in the U. K. in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the war and is also a worthy addition to middle and high school libraries, as well as public library collections. However, I think both short stories and historical settings can be a hard sell, so the combination probably means few kids will pick it up, though Jim Kay’s illustrations could reel some in.