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Thanks to NetGalley and Simon Schuster Books for Young Children for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: May 12th, 2020

176 Pages

Synopsis: In this 20th anniversary edition of Todd Strasser’s gut-wrenching and critically acclaimed Give a Boy a Gun, two boys bring guns to school in search of revenge against their classmates.

For as long as they can remember, Brendan and Gary have been mercilessly teased and harassed by the jocks that rule Middletown High. But not anymore. Stealing a small arsenal of guns from a neighbor, they take their classmates hostage at a school dance. In the panic of this desperate situation, it soon becomes clear that only one thing matters to Brendan and Gary: revenge.

This special 20th anniversary edition includes updated back matter and statistics on school shootings—a topic that is now more relevant than ever.

Give a Boy a Gun was written twenty years ago, yet tragically retains all of its relevance today. The first book about a school shooting written in the aftermath of the Columbine mass shooting on April 20, 1999, it shares a few similarities to the events that unfolded there, although Todd Strasser actually began researching the subject earlier.

The novel is in epistolary format and the majority of it is told through transcribed interviews with parents, teachers, and students that Gary’s stepsister Denise compiles three years after Brendan’s and Gary’s attack on their tormentors and the adults who failed to protect them. Through the eyes of several characters, the reader sees what precipitates their violent rampage, as well as the bloody night of revenge itself. Included are the two 10th graders’ suicide notes which added an additional chilling and disturbing layer.

There are a few things that prevents this from being a perfect read. First, while seeing the viewpoints of so many characters in a book thats under 200 pages long, is informative, it doesn’t allow you to really connect with anyone. The characters are also extremely stereotypical, with the football players being the one-dimensional bullies. I also would have somehow liked to have delved more deeply into the psyches of Brendan and Gary, but there just wasn’t time. What I found the most interesting were the various teachers’ attitudes toward the bullying going on right in front of them. The football coach who tacitly encourages it, the teacher who sees it as typical “boys will be boys,” and another who sees it as a problem but doesn’t know what to do to end it. And finally, I read the Kindle version of this which shares updated gun violence examples and statistics all the way up to 2019. While these are enlightening, inserting them at intervals throughout the story, rather than at the end is jarring and disruptive.

If You Give a Boy a Gun is a flawed yet earnest and well-meaning look at gun violence in America, as well as the social and psychological effects of daily bullying on vulnerable teens. It’s raw, unflinching, and brutally graphic, so I’d recommend this for ages 15+. I believe it’s a worthy addition to any discussion regarding this ongoing problem.