Bucking the Sarge
A book review for parents
This coming-of-age book by Christopher Paul Curtis is published by Random House Children's Books and is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
At 15, Luther T. Farrell already runs a group home for disabled men. The home is owned by his slumlord mother, Sarge. Besides his many work responsibilities, Luther is an aspiring philosopher, three-time science fair winner and loyal companion to the not-so-brilliant Sparky — who longs to come up with a bogus lawsuit that will make him rich. When Sarge's unethical and dangerous activities finally catch up with her — largely because Luther has inadvertently "outed" her with his science fair project — she throws him out of the house. Luther goes, but not before he has extracted some serious revenge on Sarge.
Luther talks about a girl so beautiful that she looked like she had life breathed into her by "a kind and loving God." Sarge hides her petty cash in a Bible she made Luther hollow out.
Sarge ruthlessly cheats her renters and the men at her group home. With the help of her go-to guy, Darnell, she endangers families with lead paint, burns houses for insurance money and lies to Luther for years about the wages she's saving for him. Other adults in the story include a slick, unethical lawyer, a teacher who accepts bribes from Sarge and a drug-addicted mother whom Sarge puts out on the street. A few respectable adults appear briefly, and one of the elderly men at the group home acts as a father figure to Luther by listening and encouraging him to break free from Sarge.
Other Belief Systems
As a wannabe philosopher, Luther briefly mentions karma and quotes various thinkers in history. He believes some things that happen are signs sent to direct him, but he doesn't say from whom the signs come.
Several crass words and phrases appear, and men allude to having sex with each other's mothers as a way of demonstrating disrespect. Sarge's and Darnell's cruel behaviors and threats are pervasive, though violence is not depicted in extreme detail.
The book alludes a number of times to Luther's masturbation (though the "M" word is never actually used) and to magazines under his mattress. Though a virgin, Luther carries a condom named Chauncy in his wallet. In kindergarten, he touches a girl's knee and is sent to the principal for sexual harassment.
Golden Kite Award (2004), ALA Best Book for Young Adults (2005).
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How do you feel about Luther's decision to take revenge on Sarge — a woman who has hurt a lot of people?
- What does the Bible say about revenge?
- What are some ways we can reach out to the poor and elderly, the kind of people Sarge despises?
- How does Sarge's business ethic demonstrate the principle about money in 1 Timothy 6:10?
- Parents could also initiate discussions on ethics, premarital sex, pornography and masturbation.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.