Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Angry Management by Chris Crutcher

Although I was already a fan of Chris Crutcher's work, this book shot to the top of my TBR pile when it was challenged by a parent in South Carolina.  Because of Crutcher's willingness to take on a host of societal issues, his books are often challenged--and teens love them.  I'm not generally a huge fan of short stories, but I enjoyed this collection of three novellas and the chance to revisit characters from several of Crutcher's previous novels.  Highly recommended.

The characters in the three stories are loosely bound together by Mr. Nak's Angry Management group.

"Kyle Maynard and the Craggy Face of the Moon"  features Sarah Byrnes and Angus Bethune.  Sarah bears her burn-scarred face like a shield to protect herself from becoming too involved with anyone and Angus uses his girth and his sense of humor in a similar way.  The teens become closer as they embark on a road trip to find Sarah's mother, who abandoned her to her abusive father.

In "Montana Wild," Montana West writes the kind of stories for her school newspaper that never get published, thanks to conservative administrators backed up by the right-wing head of the school board who happens to be her adoptive father.  When her latest story, about medical marijuana, gets shot down, she is asked to write a human interest piece on a football player.  Trey Chase is not a stereotypical "dumb jock" and Montana is drawn to him right away.  His grandmother, Mari, is dying of cancer and uses marijuana to ease her pain and nausea.  Mari suggests that Montana not give up on her medical marijuana article.  Even knowing that the school paper won't publish it, Montana decides to push the issue and get it before the school board.  Mari says, "You don't have to win to win.  Just keep putting it in front of them.  The truth rises."  The showdown between Montana and Maxwell West is inevitable.

The third story, "Meet Me at the Gates, Marcus James" was my favorite.  Marcus is the only African American student at his high school, which is run by football-obsessed bigots.  Not only is Marcus whip-smart and outspoken, but he is also gay.  When he strolls into Mr. Simet's U.S. Government class wearing the pink noose that had been hanging on his locker, no one misses its significance.  Mr. Simet is supportive, but cautions Marcus about the statement he's making by wearing the noose.  When the school administrators call an assembly to "address" the bigotry, Matt Miller, a devout Christian calls them out for appearing to address the issue, while making it impossible to resolve.  I love this character, who embodies the best Christian behavior, rather than the holier-than-thou brand of Christianity that permeates American culture.  He stands up and tells the truth, which unleashes an unforeseen shitstorm and connects him with Marcus forever.  Marcus' father is another interesting character because, even though he understands what it's like to be hated for something he can't control (his race), his initial reaction to learning that Marcus is gay is anger.  He eventually accepts his son and has this to say, "You know, teacher man, bein' homosexual isn't somethin' my boy chose.  He just was.  Somebody's readin' the good book all wrong.  You ask me, God creates it, God loves it.  Simple as that."  Amen.