Turning Pages Reads: PERIOD 8 by CHRIS CRUTCHER

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

It’s another Crutcher book! And I can’t really tell you much of the plot without ruining the story! Come along and read about it anyway.

Synopsis: Period 8 lunch at Heller High school is where they’ve always met, just to hang out. Paulie, Justin, Hannah, Josh, and the rest have always felt comfortable with Mr. Logsdon, their government teacher. Some of them have been coming to his lunchtime salons since they were sophomores and juniors, and others are new. Since this is their senior year, and Logs’ last year teaching, the meetings feel necessary. Logs always says that leaving school without any clue about what’s really out there is what messes people up, so they meet at Period 8 to be honest, to talk about what’s really on their minds, to purge their family griefs, and to just …make it through. Period 8 is honesty – and confidentiality. What’s said in Period 8 stays in Period 8.

It was supposed to be a safe place for everyone. And it is, mostly, except if student body president Arney’s doing his usual politician schtick. Lately Paulie’s made it a little less safe for himself, since he cheated on Hannah – and she needs to talk about betrayals and guys and their stupidity. Paulie needs to talk about it, too… because he’s still not quite sure what happened. He’s terrified he’s turning out to be like his philandering father — but there was just something weird about the whole thing. Mary Wells, the girl they call “the Virgin Mary” came on to him, hardcore. What was that about? And, why is Arney, his supposed friend so… smug about it? And lying to him? And, worse, making time with Hannah? What kind of friend does that? Certainly not a real one.

At least there’s truth to be found in open water. Paulie and Logs have been swimming as a year-round workout for a long, long time, and as things unspool, Paulie discovers more lies, and Mary continues to fling herself at him. Everything is unclear – people he thought he knew are wearing masks more than at any point in his life, but there are answers. Until he finds them, Paulie pushes himself harder and harder in the water. When no where else is safe, it will be his salvation.

Observations: Wonderland loves Chris Crutcher. I may have even stalked him at Conferences (Tanita style, which is, showing up where he was speaking, but not looking at/speaking to him), and AF and I interviewed him back in 2006. Which made discovering I’d missed the release of one of his books a bit bittersweet. On one hand, the field has changed immensely since I first started reading Crutcher; there are more honest, diverse voices speaking louder in the field, so his books maybe don’t stand alone on a solitary plane anymore. That’s all to the good — but I’m a little sad I missed this release, yet grateful he’s still writing and that I eventually discovered this book, though I must admit, it’s slightly different from Crutcher’s usual fare.

The realistic male voices and the immense athletic focus usually found in Crutcher books is present – swimming again – but this time it’s sport unrelated to school, but to a personal challenge, which I loved. There is ethnic and gender diversity, the usual wry send-up of the “thumpers” – the Bible-reading religious kids — but with a sense of humor this time, giving them the grace of allowing them to be characters with their own thoughts, and lessening, a bit, their usual roles as narrow-minded idiots, which was LOVELY. Also, as expected in a Crutcher book, there’s the great discussions of values and ethics, and the sympathetic, wise adult figure – in this case, he’s nearly retired, so has a lot less to lose than many adults within a school system, thus the conversations really go deep. Finally, there’s the group of kids who are, on the surface, average teens, wrestling with issues of life and love. This time, there are real stakes — real losses, and real pains which don’t come up in the presence of the honest, wise adult mentor, or even the values-clarifying classmates. This time, the secrets stay hidden until it’s nearly too late, and everything is destroyed. Without telling too many details, when all is said and done, it’s a helluva way to end a senior year.

Conclusion: I wanted to put this book down – repeatedly – and spent time screaming pointlessly at the characters “Nooooooooo!” Readers will anguish as characters are manipulated and make Really Bad Choices, but there is within the human psyche the inability to look away from a train wreck for very long. Suspenseful, unnerving, and a subtle, nuanced discussion of whether we really know each other, and what we owe each other, this fast-paced book will reverberate with readers for days.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the bookstore. You can find PERIOD 8 by Chris Crutcher at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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