NOTE: THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR CHILDREN.
Laurie Halse Anderson is a young adult author most well known for the novel Speak, but has also written several other YA novels. A former student passed this my way saying it was the best book she had ever read. It opens with the serious warning about how it's not a book for children. Now, I don't know how Anderson or her publishers define 'children', but I wouldn't recommend her books for any child. I think young adult is an appropriate category for her work and I would probably say her books are good for grade 7 and up, so I was a little surprised when I saw the warning. What is in this book that is worse than the drinking, sexual assault, theft, teen pregnancy, etc that are in her other novels? In the end, I think this book is fine for anyone who is reading any of her other books.
It sort of broke my heart that my former student thought this book was better than any other book - because we read To Kill a Mockingbird last year, and that was better than this - but I actually feel like this book pairs excellently with To Kill a Mockingbird.
I spent the last Friday of summer vacation spreading hot, sticky tar across the roof of George Washington High. My companions were Dopey, Toothless, and Joe, the brain surgeons in charge of building maintenance. At least they were getting paid. i was working forty feet above the ground, breathing in sulfur fumes from Satan's vomitorium, for free. Character building, my father said. Mandatory community service, the judge said...Still it was better than jail.Tyler, a total non-entity in life and in high school, is suddenly visible after he epically vandalizes his high school. After a summer of physical labor, he is also now super built. His new body and notoriety throw him into a social class of the high school that was previously closed off to him, and thus our story begins.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you're Tyler), this is not an ugly duckling becoming popular and then realizing that his new friends are not his real friends and then going back to being normal but prettier (a la every 90s and 00s teen movie). This is about a teenager who makes a few bad decisions, serves out his punishment, then does a totally normal teenage thing and gets his whole life fucking ruined because of his newly established reputation as a Bad Decision Maker.
I actually think it pairs very very well with To Kill a Mockingbird because they both have elements of people assuming the worst about a man without very much evidence, and how sketchy the legal system is when there isn't much evidence, and how quickly people are to pass judgement before the jury has passed judgement. However, this book is frequently banned for its content (see above warning), so I would read it before recommending it to teenagers.
Like many Young Adult novels, it's a quick read (I read it in a single day involving a trip to the doctor's office) that doesn't necessarily hold literary value. However, it has a voice that is not seen as often in YA. There is a lack of male protagonists in non-fantasy/non-sci fi YA, but here is a realistic novel with a very real teenage guy whose thoughts and actions feel authentic. I wouldn't recommend it to a non-YA reader as it's definitely not the best or most important work in the genre, but if someone is a regular young adult reader then I think it's worth the time.