Book Review: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Title: Give a Boy a Gun

Author: Todd Strasser

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 208

Rating: C+

Recommended?: No

There are books that are driven by a strong plot and interesting characters, and then there are books that exist to preach to their audience and send a social/political message. Unfortunately, Give a Boy a Gun is in the later category. I didn’t dislike this book as much as The Wave (which is very blandly written and wastes a great premise, the 2008 German film adaptation is much better,) but that’s not saying much.

This will probably be the last book I read by Todd Strasser, I just don’t think his writing is for me. The epistolary format of this book is kind of cool but it just isn’t nearly as good as something like Shooter by Walter Dean Myers. It falls short in almost every way. The main characters, Brandon and Gary, are outcasts who are bullied at school and find comfort in fantasies of revenge.

Brandon is the leader and Gary is the follower and they’re both incessantly tormented by the guys on the football team. Finally they can’t take it anymore and barricade their classmates and teachers in the gym during a school dance, armed to the teeth and with nothing left to lose.

The book is told through snippets of interviews with people who knew Brandon and Gary. The messages are annoyingly didactic throughout and the book is filled with footnotes about gun violence and statistics about real-life shootings. One thing that particularly irritated me was this scene where Brandon is going on about how there is no God and nothing matters and there’s a note at the bottom of the page about how some real life shooter ‘was an atheist or associated with atheists.’

I couldn’t help shaking my head at the word he chose- ‘associate,’ like people might associate with pedophiles or white supremacists. I’m sick and tired of people who don’t get that you can be an atheist and have a moral compass, just like you can be religious and NOT have a moral compass.

Not believing in God doesn’t immediately translate to doing whatever the fuck you want to other people. If this book had had more character development and had less of a ‘very special episode on gun control’ feel, it could have been really good. I agreed with a lot of Todd Strasser’s points on gun violence but I felt they could have been addressed in a much more subtle way.


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