Title: Period 8Author: Chris CrutcherPublishing Date: March 2013
In this full-length novel from Chris Crutcher, his first since the best-selling Deadline, the ultimate bully and the ultimate good guy tangle during Period 8.
Paul "the Bomb" Baum tells the truth. No matter what. It was something he learned at Sunday School. But telling the truth can cause problems, and not minor ones. And as Paulie discovers, finding the truth can be even more problematic. Period 8 is supposed to be that one period in high school where the truth can shine, a safe haven. Only what Paulie and Hannah (his ex-girlfriend, unfortunately) and his other classmates don't know is that the ultimate bully, the ultimate liar, is in their midst.
Terrifying, thought-provoking, and original, this novel combines all the qualities of a great thriller with the controversy, ethics, and raw emotion of a classic Crutcher story.
I first met Chris in 2006 when I brought my class to the lecture hall to hear "this great author for guys" my librarian recommended to me. When we walked in I thought to myself, "no way is this man going to make my guys lift their heads off the table and listen to what he has to say." Boy, was I wrong. Immediately, Chris started shaking their hands, talking sports, chatting it up in that "guy-way" I make a poor attempt at with my students. By the end of the talk, even my most reluctant readers--boys and girls--were lined up to meet Chris and buy his books.
When I heard about Period 8, I couldn't wait to get my hands on an ARC. Thanks to a librarian friend who hunted one down at YALSA, I was able to devour this fast-paced, thrilling read one day over the winter break.
"Any subject is fair game. No qualifications to enroll, no grade or credit, no attendance taken, but in a given year membership is consistent. There were years when Period 8 was the only reason Logs taught, when the educational philosophy du jour provided him almost no satisfaction; years when his personal life was in such a shambles he could barely bring himself to the classroom each day. But Period 8 always brought him to life and grounded him."
As I raced through its final pages, closed its cover with a satisfied pat, I sat for a moment thinking, "did that really just happen?" There were many appealing moments and facets of this book for me including its stunning finale. First of all, as an educator and librarian, this third space that Mr. Logsdon (Logs) and his students create together feels like several smaller, similar experiences I've had with students through the years. There's this community that can evolve suddenly in schools, which allows all participants a safe place to do the unsafe, a place to belong, a place to stretch and grow. They pop up in various arenas on campus, on stage in a school production, on the field formed through the team, in a band room, corner of the library, classroom, before, during, and after school--pockets of Period 8s provide a neutral space somewhere between the world that belongs to home and the world that belongs to academia. I thank Chris for honoring that space with this story.
Secondly, the somewhat reluctant protagonist, Paulie Baumb, stands out, who battles his own heroic tendencies against his need to preserve himself and secure a future of his choosing. At first I thought that Paulie was up there with my top five favorite male protagonists...but now I realize, Paulie is in my top protagonist list, period, male or female. Paulie clings to the desperate hope that he is not his father's son, while indulging himself in an emotional lashing for making a mistake that made him the unwitting pawn in a psycho-path's twisted plot. Tortured, honest, and brave, Paulie remains a role model throughout the book even when his choices are flawed.
Finally, the plot! I mean, wow, I think I saw it coming, but I didn't believe that Crutcher would go there. I'm still conflicted between feeling that the sensationalism and scandal is too far out of reality to make a satisfying resolution, but, "it" happens, right? It's difficult to convey my feelings about the plots twists and turns without spoiling the ending, so I'll just leave it at that. Knowing a little about Chris' experience with mental health and teenagers, I'm leaning on my trust in him to craft a work of realistic fiction that is more real than fiction.
Judging from the last page, I'd say there's possibility that fans of the Period 8 gang might have more to look forward to in further installations, but until that time my mind is happy to grapple with the possibilities and wisdom Logs imparts on their final day, "Don't listen to me. I'm an old guy. Turn me loose and I'll want you to learn from my experiences. I'll remember things that happened to me in my time and think I should warn you. But that's all BS. There is one teacher in this world and that teacher is experience. Mine for me, and yours for you."