Hutch McQueen is a young man with an abusive mother and absentee father. He’s in and out of the courtroom as he lands in legal trouble. Also, he's not a star student since he has problems with his eyesight and lacks reading skills. He’s not alone, though. There’s Father Kerry, who wants to take him in and help him. Maggie, a woman stricken with Alzheimer’s, assists him with both reading and character development. Nyla is a bullied girl who helps Hutch study in return for watching her back—this develops into a deeper friendship. I liked reading about Hutch’s transformation, as well as how he interacted with the other characters. Many bad things happen to him and around him, but there are good things as well. The author doesn’t sugarcoat situations but presents them in a realistic way and in a positive light.
"My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn't been laid yet. I couldn't go into the slammer before that happened." Hutch McQueen.
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is a big time loser. Trapped in a dysfunctional family, his one thought is escape, but everything he does to get away lands him in trouble.
Shackled by poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. When he shoplifts and lands in juvenile detention, the court sentences him to a county youth program. There he meets the priest and Maggie, a retired teacher. They’re determined to set Hutch on a path leading away from trouble. Hutch is determined not to cooperate.
It isn’t until he’s facing serious charges that he confronts the truth—his own bad choices are trapping him. When he's offered the freedom he craves, all he has to do is take it.
14+ for adult situation and sexuality
Kranski’s office might as well be home. I spend more time with him than I do with Dee Dee, and for good reason: the principal’s friendlier than my mom.
I ease into the familiar hot seat across from him and face the shiny nameplate on his desk.
“See this?” he says, holding up the plate in front of my face. “It says, ‘Principal Noah Kranski.’ That means you’re supposed to follow my rules as long as you’re in this school.”
I roll my eyes.
“Dump the attitude, Hutch.”
He shakes his head and slams a thick file down in front of him. “This makes seven times this year you’ve cut Mr. Diakos’s class, and it’s only September.” He writes something at the bottom of a page. When he finishes, he looks up. “Did I miss any?”
“I’m not counting.” That ain’t true. I count every day I can escape that stupid class, just like I count every day I wake up in Larkston. But I’m not going to be trapped here much longer.
Kranski jabs his pen into a “World’s Best Dad” cup, and leans back with his hands behind his head. This is what he always does before he sentences me. “You get to think about changing your ways for the rest of the week. When you come back, you’re still responsible for all the class work and the tests, just like always.”
“Just like always.” I repeat the words so I got something to say that don’t sound like I’m a smart mouth. Last time I left saying, “Thanks,” and Kranski told me to cut the sarcasm. Who gives a rat’s ass about what Kranski says? I’m free, for four days.
I’m almost at the door when the secretary pops her head inside. “Sorry, Mr. Kranski, but there’s an emergency in the gym. They need you right away.”
He’s out before me, a gimpy old guy running on bad feet.
I plug into my iPod, pull up The Rockets’ newest hit, and strike out across campus. Blaze’ll be at the Smoking Tree. I follow the hard-packed foot trail that leads from the back of the school, around the curve of the hillside and up the slope. The tree’s just far enough away to keep under Kranski’s radar, yet near enough to drop in for a few tokes when I need them to get through Deek the Greek’s English class, or face going back to Palm Street and Dee Dee.
Blaze is there, talking on his cell and dealing with some kid with slicked-back hair. Blaze jerks around, pockets the phone, and then relaxes when he sees me. “Yo, thought you was the cops for a minute. You get suspended again?”
“Rest of the week.” I take my ear bud out, drop my backpack and plop onto the shady ground. “I need a joint.”
“Where’d you get that?” He points to my iPod.
“Can’t remember. It sort of appeared.”
“Right.” He smirks and tosses me a joint along with a lighter.
The kid with the greased hair ducks under a limb, and walks in the direction of the school. “Hope you got cash, man. I’m outta credit here,” Blaze says.
I dig into my pocket and pull out a ten.
He laughs. “With what you already owe me, for that ten,” he coughs, “you get a few”––another cough––“hits, man.” He holds out a roach clip with a smoking joint. “Give me that one back.”
I hand him the joint, settle against the tree trunk and roll my lips over the small brown tube. Closing my eyes, I suck the warm fog into my lungs and hold my breath. The weed winds its way through my blood and into my brain. Kranski turns into a cartoon of a cup with World’s Best Dad wrapped around his middle. Dee Dee stretches into a giant beer bottle and rolls across the kitchen linoleum. The sky turns soft and blue, with the Smoking Tree splashing crazy shapes over my jeans.
“So, how are you breaking the news to Dee Dee this time?” Blaze reaches out and grabs his joint. “She said she was bouncing your butt the next time Kranski suspended you.”
My mom don’t care what I do, but Kranski makes her life hell when he calls her in to see him. These trips to his office take away from her social life and shake her out of bed before noon. I laugh. “Guess I’ll have to move in with you, dude.”
“Anytime. I told you, man.” Blaze inhales, coughs, and then inhales again to replace the gray smoke he’s wasted in the air.
I plug back into some tunes and hang with Blaze under the Smoking Tree through three more sales. He rewards me with a few hits for acting as lookout, something I can do while I get a story together for why I’m bounced for four days. The weed and the Rockets take the edge off what’s going down later. I’m in for ‘Destruction by Dee Dee’ no matter what I say. I roll over on my right side and trace the white line from my wrist to my elbow—one of her nicer moves with a broken glass.
Stretching out on the lawn, I stare up through the tree branches. How’d it be to fly straight into those clouds, poke my head inside and stay until I wind up on the other side of the world? Goodbye, Larkston. Goodbye, Dee Dee.
I must doze off because when I open my eyes the shadows from the tree have shifted from my right side to my left. I squint at my watch. It’s after three. My ride! Hope Eddie didn’t take off without me. I hate that walk, halfway across town to Palm Street. I grab my books. “I’m out of here.”
Hutchinson McQueen's mom is a drunk and his father is always on the road. But being sixteen, he's stuck with them until he's old enough to go his own way. Barely squeaking by in school, Hutch is caught at the wrong place at the wrong time and he's sentenced to six month in a new juvenile program. The priest and the forgetful old woman infuriate him, but they start him on a journey that will change his life forever. Whether that be good or bad is up to Hutch. I usually don't read YA contemporaries, but this book surprised me with its realistic, no punches pulled plot. The author paints a realistic picture of a dysfunctional family, and not just one example, but several of them through Hutch and his friends. It was dismal, and even more depressing to see that the kids saw no way out of their crappy lives, so they acted out in crappy ways. Father Kerry and Maggie Scott make big differences in these kids' lives, but by no means have it easy themselves. Maggie is on the brink of Alzheimer's, and I can only imagine how frightening that is for someone with such a sharp mind. Not only is she there for Hutch, but he's there for her too. This story definitely pulled at my heartstrings. Amazing characters and marvelous plot. I highly recommend it.
I decided to give Double Negative a try because the sample dragged me in from the first paragraph until I had to read the whole thing! It's so rare to see well done first person, but this book does it masterfully. Hutch has a real voice that must be rendered in the way the author has chosen. No lazy writing here! The characters are well-rounded and leap off of the page into your imagination. While the book has some deeply emotional moments and deals with themes and issues that could fall into oversentimentality or preachiness, the text never crosses the line. (A real feat as one of the main characters is a priest) There are real failures and victories, and Hutch's voice carries you on through all of them in vivid prose. I was rooting for our hero and his friends for the entire book. In short, this is an excellent read for teens and adults alike, and it kept me up an hour and a half after my bedtime, so kudos to the author! Highly recommended!