Bucking the Sarge Audio Cassette – Audiobook, Unabridged
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From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up–Luther T. Farrell is not like most other 15-year-olds living in Flint, Michigan. While he's working hard to win the school science fair for the third year, he is also in charge of one of his mother's group homes and that includes driving the men to rehab and cleaning them up after bathroom accidents. Luther and his mom, a.k.a. Sarge, are financially well off because she's also a slumlord and a loan shark, but the eighth grader is uncomfortable with his life. Christopher Paul Curtis's novel (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004) recounts how this often philosophical youth decides to do what's right and turns the tables on his mother. Luther's best friend Sparky, Shayala his heart's desire, and a wise elderly resident of the group home add humor, wisdom, and a bit of romance to this story that mixes comedy and questions about morality. Michael Boatman's narration has the breezy bounce of inner-city youth, but he also captures the serious undertone of the story. The sound quality is good, and a bit of music adds a hip beat to the opening and closing of the recording. There are a few wacky subplots and some funky characters, but both urban and suburban listeners will connect with the teen appropriate dialogue and admire the way Luther emerges victorious after making tough choices.–Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Gr. 5-9. Curtis moves from the historical fiction of The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 (1995) and his Newbery Medal-winner Bud, Not Buddy (1999) to the contemporary scene in this hilarious, anguished novel set in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The narrator is smart, desperate 15-year-old Luther (not Loser, as some call him) Farrell, who speaks with wit, wisdom, and heartbreaking realism about family, work, school, friends, and enemies. He hates his vicious mom (the "Sarge"), who has made herself rich by milking the system, including evicting poor families from slum housing. Luther's job is to care for four men in Sarge's Adult Rehab Center, another scam. At school he wants to win the science fair medal again, even if his rival is the girl he has loved since kindergarten. Bits of philosophy from Luther's various mentors, who range from Socrates to Judge Judy, blend with the comedy and sorrow. There are some real surprises in plot and character, including a substitute parent Luther finds in an unexpected place and a science project that does change the world. His schemes of revenge and escape are barely credible, but the farce and the failure tell the truth in this gripping story. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Luther T. Farrell and his best friend Sparky were born in Flint, Michigan. Luther's mother, AKA The Sarge, says "Take my advice and stay off the sucker path." The Sarge made a retirement home that Luther and Sparky call "The Sarge's Evil Empire", that Luther works at. Luther is just one person in the Sarge's Evil Empire and he's going to get away from all that. Luther has always wanted to be a philosopher but to do that he has to win this year's science fair. If he wins, he will be able to go to college and become one of America's best-known philosophers. But to do this he has to beat his archrival and the love of Luther's life, Shayla Patrick.
Sparky will escape using a pit bull and the world's ugliest rat. To hold them back there is Luther's mysterious roommate, Chester X, Dontay Gaddy whose toll-free number is 1-800-SUE-EM-ALL. Darnell Dixon, the Sarge's go-to guy. Darnell knows how to break all the rules.
Bucking The Sarge is a story that only Christopher Paul Curtis could tell because it is so humorous. The readers of the book will cheer for Luther and Sparky the whole way through.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But those of us who spend most of our time in the somewhat-older, YA world are gonna be doing some kind of badass NFL-style victory dance for having lured Christopher over to our side of the 'hood with his latest tale full of one-of-a-kind characters and occasional laugh-till-the-snot-and tears-pour-out situations.
"I don't mean to say my boy is obsessed, but Sparky blames all our problems on the fact that we live in Flint. Yeah, I'm looking to get out someday myself, but this is one of those things that me and Sparky don't think alike on. But that's not his fault. My mind is trained in a different way than his.
"I like to look at everything philosophically, and he doesn't. I've known since I was about six that thinking that way will get you what you need in life so I've been studying philosophical junk since then.
"It gets a laugh every time I tell someone but by the time I'm twenty-one I plan on being America's best-known, best-loved, best-paid philosopher. And that's a job that there's gotta be a big demand for 'cause how many full-time, professional American philosophers can you think of?
"I rest my case."
Luther T. Farrell is a skinny, six-foot-four student at Whittier Middle School. He is actually fifteen, even though his driver's license says eighteen. Sparky is his best friend and foil. Luther is a success with science fair projects but less so with love (as evidenced by the well-aged condom in his wallet that he's named Chauncey). He quietly longs for romance with Shayla, the pretty and smart undertaker's daughter whom he's known forever. He's also big on making lists.
Luther's mother, a.k.a. The Sarge, has him stretched between school and work. The Sarge is the loan-sharking, slum-lording, government reimbursement-sucking, ever-scamming operator of numerous sub-par establishments, including the Happy Neighbor Group Home for Men, where she's had Luther living with, caring for, and chauffeuring around the clients since he was thirteen.
For a reasonably easy and often-funny read, BUCKING THE SARGE is also riddled with complexities and darkness. The Sarge and Darnell Dixon ("the Sarge's go-to guy and my boss and one of Flint's leading psychopath nut jobs") are a matched set of ticking time bombs. The Sarge's consistently despicable and cruel treatment of society's most vulnerable groups--children, the poor, the elderly--is topped off by the pair's gross brutality during their eviction of a family that includes one of Luther's classmates.
When, at one point, Luther "[gets] up enough nerve to tell her that I was thinking about quitting working at the home and was probably gonna get a job at Micky D's," she repeats the jaw-dropping story of how she got to where she is today. The moral of that bitter recollection is that she has learned from the wealthy, the politicians, and the corporations to milk "any- and everything that moves. If it's got nipples, I'm going to milk it." To recognize this cold, hard, violent woman as a mimic and parody of the "winners" in the American economic system of the haves and the have-nots is to understand this subtle yet scathing indictment of the system.
Luther, himself, tells us that he's learned philosophically to see things from both sides. "What's important is that you keep your mind wide open and try to understand what's going on from a lot of different angles. That's what I try to remember every time I talk to the Sarge or think about her or try to understand why she is the way she is." But, in either case, we see a dangerous woman who--whether full of great advice or not--is clearly not in a space to be what we'd consider to be a loving mother.
And dark humor is certainly found in the dangerous extremes to which Luther's buddy, Sparky, is willing to go in order to try and escape Flint. Those vivid images make us cringe as we laugh (or is it laugh as we cringe).
"Sparky took three steps back, then fell in a pile limp as a towel you just dried off with after a shower. It seemed like all of his bones had been Jell-O-fied."
There are a wealth of contemporary coming of age tales, but in the hands of Christopher Paul Curtis it's a whole new story.
"I've learned that if you don't write down what you're thinking about, no matter how amazing it is you'll forget it. I don't like to brag, but I know I've had a couple of ideas that were so great and shocking that they'd've won the Nobel Peace Prize of Philosophy. The only problem was I didn't write them down and by the time I got home or got out of the shower they were long gone."
Even more so than with Kenny or Bud, we're left at the finish wondering about the future of this goodhearted kid we've come to love. You can be damned sure that I'll be keeping a lookout for America's great new, best-loved, professional philosopher.
Parents and educators, however, should know that there are sexual themes that make it more appropriate for more mature readers. These themes make it a very different book from "Bud Not Buddy." Sexuality *is* dealt with in a fairly responsible manner--others have mentioned Luther's condom so at least he's thinking about having *safer* sex!--but it is still pretty frank. I wouldn't just hand this to any given fourth grader.
Also Luther's mother and her boyfriend are *so* threatening to him that I think this book could be upsetting to children who are sensitive to stories about children who are emotionally abused by parents. (Although, that said, Curtis does a great job of explaining how Luther's mother came to be the way she is. Not to excuse her but she is a fully formed character.)
Again, an excellent book, but one probably best for older or more mature children within the reading level.
The story itself kept me guessing for a while. I didn't know where Mr. Curtis was going to take the story. I was hooked. Luther and Sparky's adventures were funny, yet Luther's revelations were always interesting.
The characters worked well together. Everything connected perfectly: from the Sarge's relationships with Luther and Darnell to Sparky and Luther and Chester X.
Luther's story was funny and well written. I liked how the book was unpredictable. That made everything great. Mr. Curtis did a fine job with this.
I loved this book, and I think many other readers will also like this.
First, there's beautiful and talented Shayla Patrick. Luther's relationship with Shayla would be perfect if it weren't for the fact that he and Shayla are rivals in the school science fair and are, well, sort of not dating.
The other woman in Luther's life is his mother, better known as the Sarge. The Sarge, dispenser of advice and high-interest loans, is one of the richest women in Flint. She got where she is by milking the system ("If it's got nipples, I'm going to milk it," she says) and becoming a government hating slumlord. Luther knows the Sarge is crooked, but he does all he can to stay on her good side.
When his gold-medal science fair project lands him in some serious hot water with the Sarge, Luther gets creative and joins forces with his loyal if slightly harebrained sidekick Sparky to put the Sarge in her rightful place.
Readers of Christopher Paul Curtis's previous books, including THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM: 1963 and BUD, NOT BUDDY, will recognize Curtis's trademark humor and resilient characters. BUCKING THE SARGE, however, has a much darker tone and is serious through the laughter. Luther passes his fear of his ruthless mother onto the reader, but it is that fear that makes him reach inside himself and become someone strong, a character --- and a book --- worth cheering for.
--- Reviewed by Carlie Webber
Luther is a bright thoughtful 15 year old with penchant for philosophers. His focus in life is to win the school science fair for the third year in a row. When not going to school he is thinking about Shayla, the love of his life since kindergarten. He works for (and also fears) his mother, known as "the Sarge." He must clean up her rental properties after the tenants been evicted and take care of his crew of elderly men who live in one of his mother's group homes. He shaves them, feeds them and cleans up after them. Luther's wry commentary and outlook on life infuse the story with humor and poignancy.
Luther is fully aware of the Sarge's deficiencies as a parent and human being but he accepts his life because she is putting money for college into an account for him in payment for his work and afterall, she is his mom. He understands that his mother has traded in her humanity for financial success as a loan shark and slum lord but he is naive about lengths she will go to protect her empire.
Christopher Paul Curtis creates the most likable characters.
(I have always felt like Bud in Bud Not Buddy was one of the bravest kids I've ever met in a book.) Luther is another great character. He treats his crew with dignity and kindness. He is totally clueless when dealing with Shayla and his exchanges with his best friend Sparky will make you laugh out loud. Sparky's goal in life is to achieve an injury that will result a cash award from a personal injury lawsuit. His harebrained schemes are hilarious.
As the story unwinds, the reader is routing for Luther to find a way out and hoping for a softening of the Sarge's heart. The ending of the book is neatly done. You will cheer.
Michael Boatman's reading perfectly captures the voice and spirit of the story. I highly recommend this audio book and I agree with School Library Journal that this story would be best appreciated by readers grade 8 and up.
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