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The Book of Samuel    by Erik Raschke order for
Book of Samuel
by Erik Raschke
Order:  USA  Can
Griffin, 2009 (2009)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A teen's family disintegrates around him in The Book of Samuel, but in an often funny way. First his psychologist father moves into a canvas army tent in their garden, making utterances about the Bible that confuse his son. Then his crotchety grandmother - whose very hard life took her from Nazi Germany to working two jobs in the U.S. to pay for her daughter's polio treatments - has a stroke and a total change of personality after entering a nursing home. Samuel's idealistic mother (still suffering spinal pain from the polio) tries to guide him, but her advice doesn't help a lot with the tough real life situations he faces.

That aside, Samuel Gerard seems like an ordinary teen. He lives in Denver, Colorado, has two close friends, Jonathon and Jesse, and hangs out with them whenever he can at the bike jumps or the mall. He accepts - and absorbs to some extent - Jonathon's hatred of Mexicans, especially after some steal his and his friends' bikes. But after his father leaves, Samuel's problems intensify. He's threatened by Saula Sobinski. Once an A student, after a family breakup, she was constantly in trouble and mercilessly bullied her peers. Samuel realizes that since his father's departure he too 'had wanted to punch something or someone'. Samuel resorts to violence on more than one occasion. He feels empowered by it, but doesn't totally lose his moral compass.

Then Samuel's older, troubled cousin David comes to stay. He'd been living with his prejudiced aunt, uncle and cousins after his racially mixed parents went their separate ways. But it didn't go well and Samuel's mom was asked to take David for a while. David makes a Mexican friend at school and, though his relationship with Samuel is rocky at first - he tries to toughen up his little cousin - it improves over time. Samuel starts to see the Mexicans through clearer eyes at the same time that Jonathon makes big plans for revenge. The story rushes to a crescendo of a conclusion, in which Samuel demonstrates that, despite their confusion and angst, his parents gave him an excellent start in life. Unlike his muddled father, Samuel sees and acts clearly.

Erik Raschke keeps his story light throughout, while addressing very heavy topics - bullying, racism, and the escalation of violence - with a deft touch. Dealing with his family problems, Samuel becomes 'a pro at knowing that saying nothing meant something.' Yet, when he's tested, he does not fail. Don't miss The Book of Samuel, a highly recommended read.

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