Pub. Date: August 2007
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
Reading Level: Young Adult
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In high school, anyone can get busted.
It could be the senior class ski trip, or maybe it’s the way you cope with the school bully, or how you entertain yourself in the world’s most boring class. Every kid has some secret crime, something that they are afraid they’ll get in trouble for. In Busted, four different stories take place throughout one year at Coldwater Creek High School and intertwine to show that no one, whether you are an honors student or the best athlete in school, is safe from getting busted.
Is zero tolerance of high school misconduct a sound principle, given that everyone, nerd, jock, preppie, teacher, and principal, are all up to something nefarious? Or is the issue really that high school principals have to be political players in order to be effective, and students have to be equally manipulative in order to graduate successfully? The author of this novel is a high school teacher, so he is familiar with all the various cliques in the average high school. In his view, no one is innocent. This novel is made up of several interlocking stories in which various groups are victims or victimizers, bullies or bullied. Teenagers are in the business of rebelling to some degree or another. Adults are in the business of quelling rebellion and getting the kids to graduation. All the rule breakers, even the principal, get caught. But most of the time, the principal sits behind the scenes pulling various strings to make sure that the right kids graduate and the wrong kids go to jail. The novel has no true protagonist, although there are a couple of characters who in various chapters call themselves “I.” Here, high school is a somewhat treacherous place where a misstep can lead to social disaster (not going to the prom, not walking at commencement) or more painfully yet, carrying a gun around under an overcoat to take revenge on school bullies. Even though the author teaches in a high school, it certainly isn’t presented as an ideal place to be. Maybe his future novels will offer an alternative.
Real. Real. Real. These intertwined stories make clear that Bildner is a master of the young adult tale: Several couples plot to steal away to their hotel rooms on a school ski trip, get drunk, and have sex. A student devises a painstaking gambling system to place bets on who gets kicked out of class. Everyone in the path of an adolescent monstrosity-literally everyone, from a cheerleader to the custodian to an aging teacher struggling to stay relevant when even the principal thinks that he should retire-quivers with terror. A high school senior secretly records his friends’ marijuana smoking “therapy” sessions. If these stories were merely angst-laden versions of The Twilight Zone morality tales, this collection would still be a storytelling triumph. But Bildner sets out to do much more, delivering twist after twist to leave his audience gasping, breathless. The ski trip zero-tolerance policy reveals far more and puts more at risk than anyone could imagine, and the betting system revolves around the mood swings of an instructor literally driven insane with helplessness. Watch as principal “Zig” Danzig works the system and the students within, and then debate whether he is a villain or a hero. This collection deserves credit for portraying its adult characters as neither angels nor devils, but as completely gray. It is the dark side of high school, the part that nobody likes talking about. Bildner removes all blinders and lays everything bare for a book that is complex, controversial, and utterly captivating.
Mr. Danzig, the principal at Coldwater Creek High, addresses the seniors regarding behavioral expectations for their upcoming school-sponsored ski trip. He warns them of his zero tolerance policy for using drugs, drinking alcohol, or sexual behavior of any sort and spells out the consequences, including: suspension, immediate parental notification, no prom, and not walking across the stage at graduation. Even as he speaks, the best and brightest students are making and eventually follow through on their plans, certain the rules do not apply to them. Later, when they are caught drunk, high, and involved in sexual behavior, they are shocked the teachers will not cut a deal for honor students or athletic stars. Meanwhile, bored students in Ms. Nixon’s math class decide to liven things up with a gambling operation. A jealous student eventually roughs up the ringleader, leading to multiple injuries that keep him from playing spring soccer, a different sort of consequence. The problems at Coldwater come to a head when Andre, a bright but troubled student, taunts, threatens, and physically abuses vulnerable members of the student body and staff. Jordan and Liz report his behavior to the principal, but he is unable to act without proof. Andre becomes more and more blatantly abusive to his many victims. Principal Danzig must walk a fine line between helping this troubled teen and providing a safe environment for his students and staff. From the unspeakable acts of Columbine, to the continuing issues of teen drug use, not just the problems but the contributing dynamics are detailed. This vivid portrayal of the multiple issues facing students and staff in today’s high schools makes this avaluable catalyst for dialogue among students, parent groups, future teachers, and administrators.
Four connected stories about happenings at fictional Coldwater Creek High School may raise some adult eyebrows, but teens, especially reluctant readers, may think these guys have got it going on. During the annual ski trip, the cool crowd knows to take the batteries out of the hotel room’s smoke alarm before blazin’ a joint. Planning to get drunk and create party central, they have to outwit the faculty, especially see-all Principal Danzig. Rounding out the social wrongs are gambling, a bully terrorizing the entire school and lunchtime “Therapy” sessions of smoking pot in the parking lot. Danzig dominates the novel as a larger-than-life folk hero performing some over-the-top interventions. In places, voice transcripts and short sentences create a police procedural feel to the writing, but nailing teen-speak, including casual profanity, is the author’s strength. The work is a bit short on conflict resolution, and the busted teens too often fade from the pages leaving readers wondering of their ultimate fates. However, this book has a place in public libraries serving teens with a reputation for partying. (Fiction. YA)
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