Angry Management by Chris Crutcher

angry-managementCindy: It’s Banned Books Week. What better time to review a Chris Crutcher book! Angry Managment (Greenwillow, 2009) is his latest and the fabulous title and cover is sure to draw in teen readers. This one features three novellas that incorporate characters from previous Crutcher novels and short stories. The three stories are wrapped in a framing device that has the main characters in each story participating in Mr. Nak’s Anger Management class. The first story is my favorite, but that’s probably because it features my two most favorite Crutcher characters, Sarah Byrnes and Angus Bethune. For a full description of the collection, click on the link above for my Booklist review.

While reading this book and thinking about my review, I ran into an interesting situation. I had shared the book with a 17-year-old high school student. I asked him what he thought of the book. He loved it (no surprise) but what did shock me was that his favorite story (the last one in the collection) was my least favorite. To me, Marcus and Matt’s story about prejudice and hate was the one in which Crutcher’s authorial voice intrudes the most. I agree with Chris’s messages, but sometimes the characters are too black and white. The bad guys are all evil and the good guys sound a lot like Chris. But then, I’ve heard Crutcher speak a number of times. Does that influence me as a reader? Do teens hear Chris Crutcher or do they hear a teen character who is standing up for what he believes is right? I still would like to see a few more shades of gray in Crutcher’s characters, especially the bad guys, but what I want is less important than what the teens want. Readers, what do you think? How much does knowing an author impact your reading of his/her books? Or, what outside influences affect the way you read a book?

Lynn: I liked this book although I am on board with Cindy about the flaws. Characters tend toward types, the good guys are enlightened and sympathetic and the bad buys are bigoted jerks. The framing device didn’t really work very well and I KNEW something bad was going to happen to Marcus from the first sentence of his story. A new character, Matt Miller, felt like a construct built in response to criticisms that “hey, lots of Christians are great people!” In spite of these issues, Crutcher is a storyteller who yanks me in. Stock or not, I cared about the characters, rooted for them, wept for them. I heard Crutcher’s voice but I expected that and didn’t mind. More importantly, our teens have enjoyed this book very much and have responded strongly to the message.

Cindy’s question is an important one. As reviewers it is impossible not to bring experiences to the table. The critical factor is to be aware of how those shape our reactions to the books we read. I keep in mind an experience I had in my BBYA committee days. I seldom actively dislike books but there is a book that made me SO angry that I literally threw it across the room. I loathed that book, then and now. I filled page after page with furious criticisms and highlighted whole sections in outraged orange. I realized when I was listening to other people’s positive reactions to the book just how emotional I had become. The book, a parable about the Holocaust, struck me as making light of the event – a reaction I later realized was a deeply personal one. I still can’t talk impartially about that book but I am always aware of that experience. In the case of Angry Management, I was predisposed to make allowances for the author’s voice and that it would be important to note that and to gauge the teens’ responses.

What are your experiences with this issue?

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Angry Management by Chris Crutcher"

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  1. angela.craft@gmail.com' Angela says:

    On how knowing an author impacts how I read a book: I just had this with Michael Grant’s GONE novels. I don’t know Grant personally, but he co-wrote the Animorphs books so I kept seeing shadows of Animorph characters in the Gone characters. I have no idea how much of this was from me expecting to see similarities and how much was actually there.

  2. ashleyw@adam.com.au' Ross says:

    I think knowing the author does impact on how you view the book. I know a few authors and reading their books is almost like listening to them talk, I think it enhances your reading, that’s why I think it is great for young readers to meet and talk to authors.

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