This book is the perfect example of the love/hate relationship I have with Chris Crutcher, particularly his work over the last few years. Stotan, Running Loose, and The Crazy Horse Electric Game (I know that isn't the order they were published in, but it is the order I read them) excited me, moved me, made me laugh, made me cry and truly elevated me. Because of those books, for years I eagerly awaited each new book of his.
Unfortunately, he's gone from a talented writer who could move me and make me think to a talented writer who has become a shrill scold, refusing to give any credence or credit to people on the other side of his idealogical fence.
When it comes to pure raw emotion, they really don't better than Crutcher. He pulls it out of you, and in the case of this book, he practically yanks it out of you like a dentist pulling a tooth, with no novocaine. But once started, I couldn't put the book down.
I liked the book because it did get to me on an emotional level, and that's important for any book. And there were evidences of the humor that I loved in his early books--especially in the story "Kyle Maynard and the Craggy Face of the Moon.
I disliked the book because it seems that Crutcher is still living forty-five years ago in the mid-1960s going by the Who's motto--"Never trust anyone over 35." He treats racism as if it is still rampant in the country. (Is our country perfect? Of course not, and I'll never say it is, but things have gotten so much better. Because of human nature, racism will never completely vanish. The problem is that people like Crutcher look at a Utopian world and when our world doesn't yet match up to that Utopian vision, they throw fits.)
In the world Crutcher has created everyone in a school setting--with the exception of the one or two gutsy teachers who befriend the main characters--are fools and politicians thinking more of their own careers and hind ends than the good of the students. And that goes for most everyone else in a position of power as well. I can understand Crutcher maybe wanting to show it from the kid's point of view, but he doesn't. This is how he has constructed his view of the world.
In the final story, Meet Me at the Gates, Marcus James, he tries to create a sympathetic Christian character--Matt Miller. The dust jacket describes him as a straight-laced Christian. However Matt soon falls into dropping f-bombs every other sentence after the tragedy of the story. The transition doesn't feel right, it's too sudden, too quick--it feels like Crutcher created his perfect Christian, one who reads the Bible, but cusses every bit as good as a sailor. And in creating that Christian character Crutcher cherry picks his Christian doctrines and ignoring others.
While the stories here are moving and powerful, they also show Crutcher's inability to really show both sides of an issue.
I really wish I could find the writer I once loved, but I think it is a lost cause now.