August 17, 2011
The End of the Line by Angela Cerrito
There’s no doubt about it. When he gets to Great Oaks School, Robbie knows exactly where he is – The End of the Line. But what can you expect when you’re a piece of murdering scum?
And its obvious, Robbie is a first class trouble maker. He’s sullen, mouths off at teachers, damages school property and picks fights, even fights he can’t win. Unfortunately for Robbie, at Great Oaks, even the basics like showering and full-sized meals have to be earned and you can’t do that if you’re fighting the system instead of completing homework.
At first glance, the homework, a series of lists, may look like busy-work. But the lists soon have Robbie examining his life, including who he is and what he wants.
If he looks deep and communicates well, he can spend time with other people. Screw up, and he remains in isolation. Eventually Robbie is forced to see how his conditions are influenced by this actions and thoughts and his alone.
The story is told in alternating time lines. In the present, Robbie completes his assignments and interacts with the staff and, eventually, other students at Great Oaks. In the past, he meets and befriends a troubled boy named Ryan, a boy whose death eventually leads Robbie to Great Oaks. But was it murder?
Cerrito makes some gutsy moves in her first novel, dealing with poverty, the psychology of violence and warfare. She does all of this in a way that challenges readers to make up their own minds — was it murder? How responsible was Ryan for what happened? And what about the adults in Robbie’s life?
Robbie isn’t an easy character to get to know. In the beginning of the book, he’s abrasive and difficult to sympathize with. But through the flashbacks, readers see him interact with his parents and his uncle, an Iraqi war veteran.
This book would be an excellent jumping off place for a discussion on ethics, personal responsibility and more. Yes, it is a challenge to get into, but well worth the effort and more realistic because it doesn’t present and neat, tidy package of some very ugly realities.