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The Brimstone Journals
by Ron Koertge

The Brimstone Journals. Dust jacket illustration by Timothy Basil Ering; used courtesy of Candlewick Press Candlewick Press, 2001
$15.99 hardcover
114 pages

Welcome to Branston High School. The students here may nickname it Brimstone, but really they're no different from high school kids anywhere in America.

Kitty thinks she's fat. Lester knows he is, and gets bullied for it regularly. Kelli has just broken up with Damon. David and his parents disagree about the computer games he likes to play. Neesha is angry about racism. Boyd is angry about everything.

One of them has a gun. The others are on "the list."

With two more school shootings happening just a month after its February 2001 release, The Brimstone Journals is, unfortunately, still a timely and immediate topic. Teenagers that they are, these kids lack the maturity to appreciate fully the consequences of their actions. But while his characters may be casual in their cruelty (and, to be fair, their wisdom), Ron Koertge knows exactly what he is doing: making us think.

Think about all the things his characters did wrong, or did right, or did not do at all; and think what could or should have been done differently. Think about the different reasons, or perhaps excuses, for the guns in this book: revenge, despair, frustration, or a warped, self-righteous sense of justice. Think about the use and uselessness of labels, the way people struggle against one label, or try to fit another. Even Boyd is not all bad.

The Brimstone Journals unfolds in a series of short, free verse poems. First Lester speaks, then Sheila, then Damon, Boyd, Lester again. You could be reading their diary entries, or poetry written for a creative writing class. As the book progresses and tension builds, you forget even that poetic conceit; all you notice are these kids' voices and the urgency of their story. Reading The Brimstone Journals is like reading raw thought. Wow.

Reviewed by Wendy Morris. © 2001 by Wendy Morris

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