Bucking the Sarge

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Like many 15-year-olds, Luther Farrell of Flint, Michigan, can’t wait to grow... read more

Like many 15-year-olds, Luther Farrell of Flint, Michigan, can’t wait to grow up and get out on his own. He has long-term dreams of becoming the greatest living American Philosopher and short-term dreams of beating his nemesis, Shayna Patrick, in the science fair. He’s a typical teenager going through typical changes, but he’s living under the thumb of an anything-but-typical mother. Known as “the Sarge,” she’s a woman feared by everyone in Flint. At times Luther is just a regular kid, goofing around with his friend Sparky and negotiating his changing feelings for Shayna. At other times, he must navigate through adultlike situations as he works to run the Happy Neighbor Group Home for Men, one of his mother’s questionable business ventures. He does everything from changing bedpans to distributing medications to the elderly clients. At first, Luther complies with his mother’s money-saving schemes, such as when she makes him buy “new” clothing for the men at the Goodwill while pocketing the extra money from the government’s contribution. But Luther becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the Sarge’s unethical—if not illegal—business practices as he watches her henchman evict a classmate and his family from one of her properties. Through his friendship with one of the clients at Happy Neighbor, 80-year-old Chester X, Luther realizes that he has to do something to escape the future his mother has planned for him. Amidst the humor, the juxtaposition of Luther’s and Chester X’s lives as both face major transition is a fascinating theme of this noteworthy novel. They have nothing and everything in common. Their destinies become one as Luther discovers a way to escape the course handed to them by creating a new life for themselves. And the best part? He does so by following his mother’s own advice to “stay off the sucker path” and by bending the rules as he sees fit. (Ages 12–15)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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