Sierra Shepherd is a model seventh grader at her middle school. As a member of the Leadership Club and an exclusive choir group, Sierra prides herself on her accomplishments. She makes good grades and follows the rules. The biggest rule is zero tolerance for bringing any kind of weapon to school, and Sierra would never dream of violating that one! So when she realizes that she grabbed her mother’s lunch by mistake one day and it has a paring knife in it, she does the right thing and turns it in immediately. She doesn’t expect to be put on in-school suspension while awaiting a hearing to see if she will be expelled.

The zero tolerance rule turns Sierra’s world upside down, and she begins to rethink what it means to have a one-size-fits-all policy. Meeting other kids she normally wouldn’t in the detention room allows Sierra to broaden her thoughts on “acceptable” behavior. If she thinks rules are a good idea, then shouldn’t she abide by them? Even when there are “extenuating circumstances”? The answers to these questions in Zero Tolerance are satisfying and not necessarily predictable.

Author Claudia Mills has written a compelling story. Schools often face these issues, and it’s interesting to see what such a crisis feels like from a student’s perspective. Readers could fall on either side of the issue and still find something to think about in this well-written book. Though the publisher recommends it for readers ages 8 to 12, a few instances of mature language make the writing most appropriate for the upper end of that age range. Anachronistic mentions of Game Boys and answering machines are a bit confusing, but the importance of this story is timeless.

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