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Richie's Picks: Great Books for Children and Young Adults

21 February 2004 NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME by Jaime Adoff, Dutton, April 2004, ISBN 0-525-47175-8

"Their words are like a hand smacking me in the face. Where's Mr. Shoemaker? Couldn't he be on time for algebra just once?"

"I'm a loser baby so why don't you kill me?" --Beck

There's an old Parker Brothers board game from my '60s childhood called Booby Trap. All these different colored pieces are pressed together inside a spring-loaded framework and the idea is to carefully remove a piece without the spring sending all of the other pieces flying.

NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME takes place on the first anniversary of a drug-related shooting at Rockville High and the school's suburban campus feels like one big Booby Trap game with the spring getting tighter and tighter. Because of the anniversary, the 7 Alive TV news team is right there in the thick of it to chronicle the day's events.

"I'm a genius, the one they call Floater. That's because I move in and out on my own ocean. Waves I've created. I'm like the moon; I've got my own gravitational force, and there's not shit anyone can do about it."

"Granny calls me a super combo. I don't know, I feel more like an unhappy meal. I just don't fit in; I just don't fit. Not in this school. It's mostly white, but all the black kids stick together. Both sides want me to choose, but both sides don't really want me."

"I'm the best. First, in everything. That's the way it is, the way it will always be.
"On my mind, Susie Sunshine, as Mrs. Fields calls the roll:
" 'Ryan Duncan?'
" 'Here.' I say in my laid-back Varsity Voice. Third-row cool--me and Zac and Stew. We are the elite. We're going to Three-peat.
"The BEARS. We are the champions!
" 'Kurt Reynolds.' He's one of them. I don't even notice him. Why should I? I don't look back. They shouldn't be in class.
"Don't even know their names. Don't care. They're not really there.
"This is my school. My class. My town. Don't want 'them' around. They just bring us all down. Make us look bad. That's what the Colonel says, but it's true. They make us look, at them, on purpose.
Now I'm all mad. They're killin' my Susie Sunshine buzz."

"Damn, I suck--always looking for someone to save me. I don't turn around, I'm pretending I'm writing something important. I wish I had my greatest hits notebook. Left it in my backpack in my locker. Mr. Tanner says it is good to write stuff down. Says it's a release. I guess it helps sometimes, but not now.
"No, now is shit. I can't keep up with my pile; I can't keep up. As much as I try, more gets dumped on top of me. Bag after bag of trash poured over my head. How much garbage can a person live in? Does Mr. T really expect me to live my life this way? Forever? Always being dumped on? No, he can't expect me to keep taking this, can he? These morons have no idea. Nobody does, not even Mr. T. They have no idea who I really am, what I'm capable of. Yeah, I'll sit and take it, but my pile is almost to the top now. There's no more room. Do they know what that means? I don't think so. No one does, not even Mr. T. They don't know that I have the power right here, right here in my hands. Well, maybe it's time for me to show my power. Maybe I should say something back, but when I talk, when I finally say something, it won't be with words...These fools will hear me alright; everyone will hear me. Then they'll wonder why they treated me this way. They'll wish they had just tried to talk to me, talk to me like I was a person--treated me like a real person, not just a punching bag, not just a big garbage can to throw shit into, to piss on. They'll wish they could take it all back, but they won't be able to It'll be too late. Yeah, I've got something to say..You wanna hear it?"

Jaime Adoff is a poet and a musician, and it shows. In this, his first YA novel, his words are light on their feet. Adoff deftly captures the turmoil within each of his four primary characters. His supporting cast is similarly well-developed, particularly Tisha's friend and protector, Tiny. This is a story of insiders and outsiders, of predators and victims. As the bell rings for each class period, Mark, Tisha, Ryan, and Kurt find themselves being pressed tighter and tighter. The author knows just when to punctuate the building tension with humor and absurdity, primarily in the form of the on-the-scene female TV reporter who has to deal with lust, language and a skinny kid who hates the cafeteria food.

"Now, for this important commercial message

"Voice of commercial announcer: Are your kids just too much for you? Are they constantly getting into trouble around the house? Always playing their music too loud? Is the unending disrespect and teenage rebellion wearing you down? Then it's time to get NumbedOut. NumbedOut is a safe and effective way of completely tuning out your children. Just take two tablets fifteen minutes before they come home from school and you're on your way to a peaceful and stress-free evening."

NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME is an exceptional piece of writing that deals with issues that are so important to me. Through his rhythmic delivery and artfully chosen language, Jaime Adoff has crafted an extremely entertaining tale that delivers a distinct call for tolerance and respect.

Richie Partington

Support No Name Calling Week, March 1-5, 2004