Sunday, January 21, 2007

review: Twelve Shots

Reading The Rules of Survival reminded me of this collection; Werlin's story in it is one of the best I've ever read. Teachers or homeschoolers might be interested in this curriculum which uses it.

Twelve Shots edited by Harry Mazer. Delacorte, 1997 (0-385-32238-0) $15.95; Laurel-Leaf, 1998 (0-440-22002-5) $4.99 pb

In the intense media blitz following the shootings at Columbine High School, something seems to have been forgotten: The combination of guns and kids is nothing new. The sobering statistics found at the back of this collection make that clear, and the stories in it perhaps help to explain why. This is not an anti-gun book per se, but an exploration, from many points of view, of the different meanings guns have for young people. Fear, power, safety, manhood... and above all, the potential for death, unavoidable whenever a gun is present.

Guns carry such heavy baggage that just the suggestion of them in a story brings emotion with it; in two of the most chilling stories in this book, Nancy Werlin's superb "War Games," and Rita Garcia-William's shocking "Chalkman," real guns never even actually appear. In Werlin's story, toy guns symbolize a grim belief that the world is divided into the powerful and their victims. In Garcia-Williams', the destruction guns bring is so much a part of everyday life for children, it has lost all power to scare, which may be the scariest thing of all.

As I read Walter Dean Myer's novel Monster recently, I found myself wondering why he had stopped writing the fairly cheerful books about black teenagers, such as The Young Landlords, that I remember from my adolescence. He answers that question here: "The major difference between the Harlem of my youth and the Harlem of today are the lack of jobs and the availability of guns." His story "Briefcase" stunningly reveals the explosiveness of that situation.

I was inevitably most struck by the frightening stories in this collection, but there are also stories here in which guns are more ambiguous--desirable as well as deadly, useful as well as hurtful. Some of these authors love guns; some can find humor around them. It all adds up to a deeply evocative, multi-faceted portrait of the effect of guns on the hearts and minds--and lives--of children. * (12 & up)