I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Taking Aim Published by HarperCollins on September 8th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Social Issues, Violence, Emotions & Feelings, Short Stories, General
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Powerful, riveting, and real. Sixteen celebrated authors bring us raw, insightful stories that explore guns and teens in a fiction collection that is thought provoking and emotionally gripping. For fans of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and Give a Boy a Gun, and with an array of YA talent like the late great Walter Dean Myers, the poetic Joyce Carol Oates, the prophetic Elizabeth Wein, and the gritty Chris Crutcher, these are evocative voices that each has a different perspective to give. Capturing the hurt and the healing, victims and perpetrators, these stories get to the heart of the matter.
From a boy whose low self-esteem is impacted when a gun comes into his possession to a student recalling a senseless tragedy that befell a favorite teacher, from a realistic look at hunting to a provocative look at a family that defies stereotypes, each emotional story stirs the debate to new levels. The juxtaposition of guns and their consequences offers moving tales, each a reminder of how crucial the question of guns in our society is, and the impact they have on all of us.
Other acclaimed contributors are Marc Aronson, Edward Averett, Francesca Lia Block, Alex Flinn, Gregory Galloway, Jenny Hubbard, Peter Johnson, Ron Koertge, Chris Lynch, Eric Shanower, Will Weaver, and Tim Wynne-Jones.
Taking Aim: Power And Pain, Teens And Guns edited by Michael Cart is a young adult anthology centering around guns. There are a variety of stories included showing various sides of the gun control debate. In all, this is an okay anthology with some stand out stories and then some duds. In all, I could see this having use in a school library – especially if kids in English class are doing research around social issues.
A Culture Of Guns… With Comments From Sons by Marc Aronson, Will Weaver, and Chris Crutcher
This part actually isn’t a short story, I don’t think but a recounting of the three authors’ experiences with guns and a look at our culture. Each author has had different experiences with guns and shooting – including seeing guns in the media, going hunting, and more. I thought this section was interesting, but writing this recap of this part a few days later, I will admit that I do not really remember a whole lot of it, except that it reminded me of a very abbreviated version of the documentary Tough Guise featuring Jackson Katz.
Roach by Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers’s contribution to Taking Aim is a short story entitled Roach. It is about this kid named Gregory who goes to an inner city school. Gregory has a sister who is pretty innocent and pure and not into violence. For the most part, Gregory is on the straight and narrow too. However, he cannot help but notice all these people who look at him and his friends like they are roaches and unworthy. One day, Gregory is going to school when his friend goes into the bathroom and does heroin. That friend is caught and arrested. Gregory somehow obtains his backpack. In it, he finds a gun. He then is called by his friend and asked to do a drug dropoff. Gregory participates, but ends up killing a guy with the gun and not feeling remorse about it. This is an interesting story with the roach metaphor. It is more literary than I had expected and I am definitely glad it is included in this book.
Embraced By Raven Arms by Tim Wynne-Jones
Tim Wynne-Jones’s Embraced By Raven Arms stars a boy named Morley. Morley lives on a road that is in the middle of nowhere. One day, he comes up and notices that there are men stealing from his home. This is part of a rash of crimes that have been occurring in his area. He goes to call the police, but remembers a bully stole his phone. So, when he notices that the keys are in the ignition of the getaway vehicle, he gets in and drives the vehicle to a neighbor’s house in order to make the call, eventually finding a gun in the seat, which he decides to take. From there, Morley’s story entwines with another character who is also bullied. I won’t say what happens except that neither boy can ignore the siren call of the gun. Friends, I really enjoyed this story and would not mind checking out more by Tim Wynne-Jones.
Shoot by Gregory Galloway
This has seriously got to be the most teenage boy testosterone story every. Okay, so four boys – the unnamed narrator, Tim, Jacob, and Nick go to the narrator’s uncle’s hunting cabin in the woods -ostensibly to shoot deer. It is a good trip and everything seems hunky dory and fine and natural. Only, Tim, a weirdo who only came along on the trip because his friends wanted him to come, has watched this video online of a man who is shot in the arm for performance art. Tim decides he wants to be shot in the arm so that he can have it as a story later. And so, Shoot by Gregory Galloway is about the moral dilemma Tim’s friend, the unnamed narrator, has with shooting Tim in the arm and the questions he has about his moral relativity.
The Bodyguard: A Fable by Ron Koertge
Ron Koertege’s contribution to Taking Aim is The Bodyguard: A Fable. It’s one of the faster stories in this anthology. This story is about a pair of deer who are dreading hunting season. They decide to take matters into their own hands and hire a human bodyguard (who falls into poverty stereotypes, his home is falling down, he wears a wifebeater shirt, he drinks booze on the porch). They find money to pay the human with, however, this is an experiment and there’s a question of whether it will actually work or not. Or — if the human who is down on his luck will turn on the two deer. In all, this story is certainly creative, I just found myself bored stiff by the poverty stereotype within.
Fight Or Flight by Alex Flinn
This short story by Alex Flinn is about a girl who is a democrat who enjoys shooting. She goes to the range with her dad as a bonding experience. Her dad is also a democrat and a bit of an anomaly at the range. They go with her vegetarian sister Kate and usually Mr. Angelo, the elementary school gym teacher is there. Mr. Angelo is a bit of a gun nut. Anyways, the girl and her family and Mr. Angelo go out to lunch at the local BBQ pit where the environmental group shows up and she’s super embarrassed. Skip forward and there is some rumblings about bath salts and mysterious attacks – sort of a zombie outbreak, if you will. Frankly, Fight Or Flight by Alex Flinn actually isn’t anti-gun but very pro responsible gun ownership. So far, it is my favorite in the anthology.
Certified Deactivated by Chris Lynch
Certified Deactivated by Chris Lynch is a super weird story. I will come out and say that I just did not get it. Essentially it is about this guy named Gus who is having his wedding day on an island to a woman named Pristine. Gus has some sort of heart defect and so he’s not very conventional looking and finding a woman who would love him always seemed out of the question. He has a bit of money because he’s got a good job working at a sausage casing factory. Unfortunately for him, he loves guns to the point of licking them which seems to freak other people out. In all, weird story. I was not a fan.
Love Packs Heat by Eric Shanower
Okay, this short story, Love Packs Heat by Eric Shanower is actually a graphic short story – meaning it’s told in comic book form. The story opens with Eros shooting his arrows at people and them falling in love. Then Hephaestos decides he wants to give Eros a gift, and because he is the Greek God of fire and the forge, he makes Eros a gun to shoot love from. The gun doesn’t work, and so Hephaestos goes through a variety of guns trying to find the right one for Eros. This story is awesome and funny and I loved it.
The Dragon by Francesca Lia Block
Francesca Lia Block’s story The Dragon is set in the year 2022 and it is a bleak outlook of our future with guns and one that seems entirely plausible. In this story, there is a kindergarten teacher named Chantel. She’s morning the loss of her fiance Jordan. One day a man visits her classroom with reptiles. Unfortunately, he brings a gun. In the year 2022, teachers are required to carry guns and be trained. Chantel, however, does not believe in this. That means, however, that her weapon is locked up with in the closet and unable to help her. So, she appeals to the man using compassion and love. Will it work, or will there be another classroom tragedy? You’ll have to read this short to see. Just know that I really was struck by this story in a good way.
The Babysitters by Jenny Hubbard
Jenny Hubbard’s short story, The Babysitters is a brief story narrated by a woman named Julia. Julia is remember back to when she was in high school and her art history teacher had brought in his daughter, Daisy to school. Daisy was walked to the bus everyday by a pitbull lab mix named Mary Poppins. One day, a gunman shot up Daisy’s bus and Daisy did not survive. This story is brief sketch, almost, on how Daisy’s death affected the teacher, and how in a small way it touched Julia. It is heartbreaking and packs so much in emotion in so few pages. It also convinced me that I want to read more by Jenny Hubbard.
The Battle Of Elphinloan by Elizabeth E. Wein
I think that The Battle Of Elphinloan by Elizabeth E. Wein is the short story that I was the most excited to read in Taking Aim. Everything Elizabeth E. Wein writes just kind of astounds me — because she’s a master of her craft. It turns out that this holds true for short stories as well. The Battle Of Elphinloan takes place during World War II in Scotland. Janet’s dad is still there, he’s an artist for the propaganda machine, for the Ministry. One day, Janet decides to shoot a pigeon for dinner and takes her hunting dog – Flora with her. She goes around some barricades and unfortunately this is when a battle begins. The battle, however, is over quickly, but there is one survivor, with a gun. The Luftwaffe airman and Janet have a bit of a standoff and well, what results is something quite painful. This story is beautifully written, packed with detail and violence and strong characterization. So far it is the best short story in the book.
Dark Hobby by Edward Averett
Straight up, I did not enjoy Dark Hobby by Edward Averett. Imagine that Lenny from Of Mice And Men is narrating a story and has a gun, and that’s pretty much this story. The main character is named Swayzee and he has air in his brain I guess. He lives with his grandparents in the countryside and they have the brilliant idea of giving him a gun. Swayzee is a bit, um, off and also not quite all there, so he pretty much murders his grandmother. Also there is kitten drowning. And I am sure this story is symbolic and smart, but it is beyond me and I just did not get it.
The Gunslinger by Peter Johnson
I do not think I’ve read anything by Peter Johnson before – a pity because The Gunslinger was quite good. Johnson’s story is a sort of dual point of view story about a girl named Maura who is a track star and a boy named Alex. Maura decides she needs a gun because a boy has sexually assaulted her. Alex comes across Maura at the mall and reminisces about getting with her using classic nice guy moves to disarm her and then engage her in sexual activity against her will. So, not only is this a story with a gun element, but also with a rape culture element. It’s brilliantly written. The Gunslinger is one of my top short stories within this anthology.
Heartbreak by Joyce Carol Oates
You guys, Heartbreak by Joyce Carol Oates JCO was sooooo long. I know I am a terrible reader for whining about a story being long when I should be excited at length and words. My attention kept on wavering though. This is the story of a thirteen year old girl named Stephanie who is not particularly beautiful. Her sister Caitlin, however, is gorgeous. Anyways, their mother remarries the local Buick dealership owner and they all move into his house. Each year, his nephew visits. His nephew is named Hunter, but they call him Hunt. Caitlin and Stephanie both have feelings for him. Anyways, there’s a gun in the mix. Eh. I don’t know. I was sort of bored by this story and felt a bit bad for the main character, but at the same time, I thought she was way out of line. I do think that this anthology ended on a bit of a low point.