Sunday, August 26, 2007

Breaking Rank--Kristin D. Randle

This book really tries to be The Outsiders, but fails. It's got an intriguing kernel of an idea though.

In an unnamed, dreary, anywhere city there's a group of boys labeled The Clan. They wear all black, they don't participate in school, are all tracked into special ed classes. They skulk around in groups on the outskirts of middle class society, being poor, looking intimidating, sticking to themselves, and ignored.

One of the high school teachers decides to break up The Clan by targeting one Thomas Fairbairn, aka Baby, sending him to the honors track and pairing him with Casey, a combination tutor/guide to the system. It's an awakening for both of them--The Clan turns out to be an organized group started by Baby's older brother and two friends, devoted to Waldenesque ideals of self-education and apprenticeship and Baby has an active mind hidden behind his exterior. Casey's intrigued by him, and Baby's fascinated by her loving middle class family and values. However, this situation threatens and unnverves various other people leading to the classic YA exploration of self vs. group, nonconformity, and that agonizing rite of passage called figuring out who you are and what you want independent of everyone else.

Randle's ham-handed with her deus ex machina points, like the teacher's ability to arrange college plans for Baby and a too easy ending. On the whole, it hampers her narrative and character development, but I love the idea of a boy cult devoted to self education, intellectualism and high ideals.

Book connections: I was very much reminded of the original Hopeless Savages graphic novel, to which I had this same intrigued but disturbed reaction due to its theme of the pressures of family conformity in the guise of nonconformity. And I was also reminded of my current favorite song, Billy Bragg's "To Have And Have Not" with its theme of self-reliance and confidence in the face of low expectations and economic odds. It gives me succor as I think about my job hunt. it also reminds me how much I just flat out like teenage boys.

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