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The Rifle


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About the Author

GARY PAULSEN has written nearly two hundred books for young people, including the Newbery Honor Books Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room. He divides his time between a home in New Mexico and a boat on the Pacific Ocean.


Gr 5 Up‘This novella focuses on a specific weapon crafted during the Revolutionary War. At the book's conclusion, set in 1994, this rifle still functions and performs as it was designed to do. Paulsen, who can create vivid portraits of individuals in relation to specific places, takes the focus off the people here, although they remain distinct characters, and puts this object‘a rifle‘at the core of the story. Although he seems to be saying that people don't kill people, guns do, this message is not sustained. The circumstances seem so unique and the love of weaponry so strong that the anti-gun theme is fatally weakened. For anyone whose mind is made up on this issue, this book will probably not change it. However, it could lead to intense discussion and exploration of how our society has evolved into its present gun-loving culture and into the intense anguish and human cost we collectively ignore as we continue our love affair with weaponry. For readers willing to think about this issue, for those looking for ways to introduce the debate, there is no better vehicle than this short, engagingly written story of one rifle and its fatal impact on one modern boy.‘Carol A. Edwards, Minneapolis Public Library

A gifted storyteller, Paulsen could have plucked this plot straight from any newspaper-an accidental shooting with a loaded gun. This tragedy doesn't occur until the final pages, however; with consummate skill, Paulsen slowly sets the stage by focusing on the weapon itself, a rifle made in 1768 and subsequently used in the Revolutionary War. He documents the painstaking, labor-intensive process of crafting a rifle by hand. And not just any rifle, but one that is "sweet"-a weapon of both beauty and deadly accuracy. He tracks its history, from the attic in which it languishes for centuries to the hands of an ultra-conservative gun freak (whose small-mindedness Paulsen exposes in withering detail), to the home of a mechanic who accepts it in trade for an auto repair. Only then do readers meet the boy Richard and sense impending doom. The remaining pages unfold with nervewracking leisure as readers squirm, awaiting the inevitable explosion. Although he sometimes uses his novel as a bully pulpit to fight the argument that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," his magnificent prose is as "sweet" as the rifle about which he writes. A truly mesmerizing tale, from beginning to end. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)

"For readers willing to think about this issue . . . there is no better vehicle than this short, engagingly written story of one rifle and its fatal impact on one modern boy."--School Library Journal

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