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Breaking Point

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Gr 7 Up-Desperate for friends, Paul Richmond makes choices that push him to the Breaking Point (HarperCollins, 2002). Alex Flinn's novel opens with Paul's release from juvenile detention, then flashes back to his first day as a scholarship student at a private high school in Miami. Previously homeschooled, Paul is shy, and unkind kids soon make him the butt of nasty pranks and verbal abuse. Ignored by his recently-divorced father, and dragged down by his overwhelmed mother, Paul disregards the warnings of his only school friend and begins hanging out with Charlie Good, a popular, but enigmatic, boy. Even the teachers like Charlie, and though Paul has doubts about his sudden invitations from the in-crowd, he puts aside his worries. Paul's misplaced trust, and his lingering resentment toward his tormentors, make him the perfect person to plant Charlie's homemade bomb in the school. Fortunately no one is hurt, but Paul learns some hard lessons when he alone is charged with the crime. Narrator Jason Harris brings youthful believability to the high school students' dialogues. Case and cassettes are well-marked and good quality. In an author's note, Flinn discusses the story's connection to the issue of school violence. As in many young adult novels, Breaking Point also includes sex, suicide, and Internet influences. Though this audiobook does not deal with any of these topics in depth, most adolescent listeners will relate to Paul's internal turmoil.-Barbara S. Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Heavy-handed writing undermines Flinn's (Breathing Underwater) stated goal for her second novel, namely, to "stimulate discussion" among teens about why kids commit violent acts. When geeky ex-homeschooler Paul Richmond enrolls as a sophomore at an exclusive Miami private school, he is immediately targeted for harassment. Living in a shabby apartment with his needy, newly divorced mother (her job in the school office lowers Paul's tuition), Paul would feel miserable even if the jocks weren't calling him "faggot" and trashing his locker. Then popular Charlie Good suddenly befriends him outside of school, that is and Paul seems willing to do anything to stay in favor. First Paul vandalizes mailboxes, then he hacks into the school computer system to change Charlie's transcript. Charlie's hold on Paul intensifies until he persuades Paul to plant a bomb in the school. Characterizations are stock, and no one, particularly not the all-powerful Charlie, seems convincing. The boys' reasons for wanting to blow up the school remain murky, and many of Flinn's devices, like the school sermons that parallel the plot, are contrived. For a more developed treatment of similar themes, readers may appreciate Gail Giles's Shattering Glass, reviewed Feb. 11. Ages 13-up. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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