Josiah's Reviews > Bucking the Sarge

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis
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's review
May 14, 2011

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Read from May 04 to 12, 2011

Christopher Paul Curtis continually amazes me. He can tell a story so wild and crazy that the entire idea behind it seems totally outlandish and absurd, completely unbelievable, yet he is so skillful at finding ways to ground his characters in the bedrock of reality that, ultimately, the story doesn't feel all that far-fetched after all. There is no one like Christopher Paul Curtis.

At age fourteen, Luther finds himself in the unpaid (practically speaking, at least) employment of his mother, whose strictness and seeming near-omniscience have given her the nickname, "The Sarge". Luther works regular hours after school and on weekends at a retirement home that his mother owns, taking care of CNA duties for the elderly population under his supervision. Luther's wages come in the form of stipends that are promised to be regularly added to his growing college fund, so that when he becomes of age he can attend a good college and make a life of affluence for himself, as his mother did.

Bucking the Sarge is a series of funny schemes and scams, perpetrated by Luther, The Sarge and some others around them, at the same time as Luther is trying to figure out what kind of place exists for him in the world once he turns of age, and whether or not he really wants to follow in the footsteps of his austere mother. Complications to the philosophy of "Look out for number one" that Luther has been force-fed from an early age arise with the coming of a new resident to the home where Luther works, a man named Chester X. This new denizen of the home is a great deal more than he at first glance appears to be, and has ideas about what it takes to make it in life that are different from the borderline-criminal ones espoused by The Sarge. Luther wonders if his mother may have been missing the mark all along with her style of intimidation tactics and patent disregard for the welfare of those under the umbrella of her broad sphere of influence. When Luther finds out that his own financial security is not at all what he had been led to believe, he has to make a choice: continue to follow the orders and plan of The Sarge, or break away and make the bold, permanent declaration that he's going to carry out his existence on his own terms, and according to his own philosophy that he is just beginning to really comprehend in its big-picture form.

Bucking the Sarge is a very strange story, no doubt about it. I didn't fully understand the point of everything that happens in it, and many of the plot twists left me puzzled, but hidden among the weirdness are some deep thoughts that effectively act as a nucleus to keep the story together and give it a worthwhile central theme. Normally I would round my two-and-a-half-star rating of a book such as this down to two stars, but there's something about Bucking the Sarge that is definitely better than that rating would show, and so I'm rounding it up to three stars, instead. Christopher Paul Curtis truly is a cut above the rest, and I would recommend anything that he has written, including Bucking the Sarge.

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Quotes Josiah Liked

Christopher Paul Curtis
“Things aren't ever what they seem to be when you first look at them. What's important is that you keep your mind wide open and try to understand what's going on from a lot of different angles.”
Christopher Paul Curtis, Bucking the Sarge

Christopher Paul Curtis
“You know, there's something especially lonely about a gold medal hanging all by itself on a bedroom wall, something that says "fluke," or "beginner's luck," or "one in a million," but two gold medals, now that says something completely different. That says, "Oh, yeah, baby, this is the real deal!”
Christopher Paul Curtis, Bucking the Sarge

Reading Progress

05/04/2011 page 25

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