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Review of BUCKING THE SARGE by Christopher Paul Curtis.

by Rose Brock

Curtis, Christopher Paul. 2004. BUCKING THE SARGE. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN 0385901593.

Departing from The juvenile historical fiction genre, Curtis's young adult work is set in present-day Flint, Michigan, and tells the story of Luther, a teen whose life is controlled completely by his ruthless mother, known by all as the Sarge. Operating as a loan shark, scam artist, and slum lord, the Sarge controls all in her path, especially Luther. While Luther yearns to become a philosopher, his life is consumed by fulfilling the duties required by his mother. Whether it is cleaning out the found remains in homes of those recently evicted by his mother or caring for the elderly men at the group home where he resides, Luther's disdain for his mother's lack of values and ethics become more and more unsettling for the teen. After suffering at the hands of mother and her cronies for years, Luther finally has enough and acts on an opportunity to get his life back in order.

Curtis's choice in narration is a perfect fit; whether sharing about his dreams of a more noble life or the age of the condom in his wallet, Luther's first-person point-of-view offers readers a story filled with humor and wit. Especially amusing are scenes between Luther and Sparky, his "womb to tomb" best friend who plays a convincing role as sidekick. Curtis's treatment of the other secondary characters is also notable; their interactions with Luther and the Sarge provide additional depth and amusing complications to the story. While the theme of good versus evil is often overused, Curtis's created battle never feels tired. In fact, readers will find themselves cheering Luther on as he finds the courage to seek appropriate revenge on his mother, and they will be sufficiently satisfied and left with a smile by the story's end.

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