Names Will Never Hurt Me…*fingers crossed*

Names Will Never Hurt Me by Jaime Adoff; published by Dutton Children’s Books, New York, 2004; 186 pages.

A day in the life of high school students.  But not just any day.  It is the first anniversary of a school shooting that resulted in the death of a wannabe gangster.  This day is presented from the perspectives of four diverse teens: Kurt, the “freek” that is bullied and called “Dirt” by his peers; Ryan, the all-American football star that has a penchant for women, whether they want him or not; Tisha, the bi-racial transfer student that is still trying to decide “which side” she is on; and Mark, aka “Floater,” the snitch who rakes in the cash as he weilds his influence among his peers.  How the four young adults end up in a life-threatening situation, and who winds up the hero, are the delicious end to this exquisitely written piece of realistic fiction.  By the way: Any guesses as to what is in Kurt’s gym bag?

How long since Adoff was a teen, I wonder?  He has an incredible gift for portraying the angst of divergent teens realistically and with heart-breaking honesty.  In addition, his gift for poetry is evident in the lyrical style given each student.  I found the prose-poetry remarkably easy to read as the rhythm carried me forward through the stories, interweaving the tales and tragedies.

Whether a jock, misfit, geek or nerd, all teens will find someone or something to relate to in this book.  Adoff admits that recurrent news of school shootings and teen violence motivated him to do something–thus the book.  Whatever his motivation, I am thrilled he wrote this novel.  I ran across the book while looking for another title by another author, but Adoff’s name on the spine caught my eye.  I checked out the book and read it.  For the first time, I did not consider him “the son of Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff,” but rather I looked upon him as his own man.  Bravo.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 8-12+

nameswillneverhurtmeCover Art: Shadows of the window pane are visible on the spilled backpack, books and papers askew.  “FREEK” is boldly printed in red on one of the papers.  The dark background, font choices and image will definitely attract young adults to this book.

Suggested Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. 3amoeba
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 11:31:58

    What’s in Kurt’s bag? My guess isn’t weapons but rather a book or books–more journaling? Another “hitlist” or maybe lyrics to all of his favorite songs?

    Here’s what Jaime Adoff says:

    *Kurt’s Bag*
    What was inside Kurt’s gym bag, in NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME?

    Here is the answer to the million dollar question:
    I don’t know . . . Some days when I would wake up, while writing Names Will Never Hurt Me, I would think Kurt had a whole arsenal in his gym bag, other days I would think, no, he’s not that kind of kid. I would like to believe he didn’t have any weapons in his gym bag, but I do not know for sure.

    I thought what was most important, wasn’t what was in his gym bag, but
    what the gym bag represented to Kurt. How it made him feel. It represented
    power, control. When he had that gym bag, it was the only time he felt any
    type of control over his chaotic and abusive life. He felt empowered for
    the first time, it made him feel as though he could strike out at his
    tormentors and make them pay, perhaps, the ultimate price . . . .

    The reader knows he has something heavy in there, but I purposely did not
    say what it was. The other reason is; it is only one day. I did not want
    the reader to have too much information about Kurt or any of the
    characters. Had we known what was in Kurt’s gym bag, I think the reader
    could have been swayed too much one way or the other in their impressions
    about him. This book is like being beamed down from another planet for one school day, to walk in the shoes of these kids, to hear their most private and intimate thoughts and feelings, then you are beamed back.
    Hopeful, that all will work out, but like in life, you just don’t know for
    sure. Perhaps, if there is a sequel we may find out more about these characters,(especially Kurt.) Maybe we will see if he still has that gym bag and perhaps, finally find out what’s inside . . .

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