January 16, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos | SLJ Review

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GANTOS, Jack. The Trouble in Me. 224p. Farrar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374379957.Trouble
Gr 7-10–Situated sometime between the events in Jack’s Black Book (1997) and Hole in My Life (2002, both Farrar), Gantos’s latest offering is a fictionalized look at a critical juncture in his own adolescence. Shortly after moving to a new town, 14-year-old Jack meets Gary Pagoda, a way-too-cool-for-school delinquent who is the utter antithesis of Jack. He smokes, wears a black leather jacket, curses like a sailor, steals cars, may have impregnated a local girl, and shares Jack’s enthusiasm for all things pyrotechnic. Dissatisfied with his own seeming weakness and looking to reinvent himself, Jack falls in love with the idea—if not exactly the reality—of bad boy Pagoda. In an effort to impress his new mentor, Jack literally risks life and limb in cringe-inducing scenes of backyard stunts involving fire, ropes, and all manner of terrible ideas—many of which should come with a “Don’t try this at home!” warning label. Beneath the bravado, however, Jack struggles with self-acceptance and what it means to be a man. He allows his manipulative and mean role model to goad him into increasingly dangerous situations, losing pieces of himself with every moral compromise. Though it’s clear by the end that Jack is not cut out for a criminal lifestyle, the seeds of his tendency to relinquish control of his life to others have been planted and the stage set for the trouble he meets in Hole in My Life. Gantos’s characteristic humor and keen observation of the fragile teen psyche combine with heartbreaking authenticity in this unflinching look at how a good kid can easily go down a wrong path. VERDICT Hand this to the so-called “bad” kids, the lost kids, and the ones struggling to find their way.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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