Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bucking the Sarge

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis, 2004
Michael Boatman, narrator

I don't know why this book did not win the Newbery Award this year. I do know that I will be thinking of Luther T. Farrell, his best friend Sparky and his "crew" for a long time.

Luther is a bright thoughtful 15 year old with penchant for philosophers. His focus in life is to win the school science fair for the third year in a row. When not going to school he is thinking about Shayla, the love of his life since kindergarten. He works for (and also fears) his mother, known as "the Sarge." He must clean up her rental properties after the tenants been evicted and take care of his crew of elderly men who live in one of his mother's group homes. He shaves them, feeds them and cleans up after them. Luther's wry commentary and outlook on life infuse the story with humor and poignancy.

Luther is fully aware of the Sarge's deficiencies as a parent and human being but he accepts his life because she is putting money for college into an account for him in payment for his work. He understands that his mother has traded in her humanity for financial success as a loan shark and slum lord but he is naive about lengths she will go to protect her empire.

Christopher Paul Curtis creates the most likable characters.
(I have always felt like Bud in Bud Not Buddy was one of the bravest kids I've ever met in a book.) Luther is another great character. He treats his crew with dignity and kindness. He is totally clueless when dealing with Shayla and his exchanges with his best friend Sparky will make you laugh out loud. Sparky's goal in life is to achieve an injury that will result a cash award from a personal injury lawsuit. His harebrained schemes are hilarious.

As the story unwinds, the reader is routing for Luther to find a way out and hoping for a softening of the Sarge's heart. The ending of the book is neatly done. You will cheer.

Michael Boatman's reading perfectly captures the voice and spirit of the story. I highly recommend this audio book and I agree with School Library Journal that this story would be best appreciated by readers grade 8 and up.


Anonymous said...

Camille, I think this didn't win the Newbery because no one died and because the narrator is a real winner. No, seriously, it's just not depressing enough! (I'm starting Kira-Kira right now, and it's good, but it's sure not funny.) I think that like the Oscar never going to a comedy, the Newbery doesn't usually go to a book that's hilarious and has a nice bit of revenge. Sad Sibling Deaths are like Hilary Swank roles. IMHO.

Camille said...

Heh! I agree with you.
I was amazed when The Tale of Despereaux won last year! It was the first Newbery I could share with a wide range of elementary age kids.

I love to show kids a copy of the 1953 winner, Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark and ask them how many had ever heard of it.?? Then I pull out Charlotte's Web and tell them IT was only a Newbery Honor book. shock!, amazement!

Mental multivitamin said...

I borrowed this from the library last night, based on your recommendation. Keep up the good work here.

Best regards.