Inside a tragedy
The first thing you might wonder when you start to read Shooter, the chilling, poignant novel by Walter Dean Myers, is "Did this really happen?" With transcripts of interviews, newspaper clippings, autopsy reports and diary excerpts, the book appears to document a high school shooting that took place in a suburban community sometime after the D.C. sniper rampage. After a while you realize, with some relief, that while school shootings are by no means unheard of, this particular tragedy hasn't actually happened yet. The book's first interview is with Cameron Porter, a sad, prickly boy whose favorite phrase is "no big deal." Cameron is one of the few African Americans at his school, and though he's usually not subjected to extreme forms of racism, he still feels isolated. His parents are cold and punitive, and though his mother brags about the exorbitant cost of their indoor pool, his parents are too cheap to send him to the college of his choice. In his loneliness, Cameron becomes something of a disciple to the shooter, Len, an even more troubled and unpopular white boy. Carla, their collaborator and Len's girlfriend, is as alienated as the boys, with her Goth makeup and parents who are even worse than those of her friends (inadequate parenting is one of the book's subthemes). Yet, unlike Cameron, she retains enough self-respect to stand up to a "threat assessment specialist," who questions her too closely about her personal life. Myers' writing is spare, as one might expect in a book made of what, in real life, would be juiceless documentation, but he still manages to move us. The book's penultimate section is Len's diary, written in his own hand. The writing is all spidery block letters of different sizes and words that break in unnatural places. Were it not for the clever puns and sarcasm, you'd think the diary was written by someone much younger than 17. While Shooter is aimed at teens such grim subject matter isn't suitable for younger children this compelling if disheartening book about an all-too-real danger makes interesting reading for adults as well. Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.