Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Review: Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills (2013)

A model student, Sierra Shepard is the least likely seventh grader to be expelled for bringing a knife to school. Unfortunately, one day, she grabs her mother’s lunch instead of her own, and her mother has packed a knife in her lunch bag, planning to use it to cut an apple. Ever the conscientious citizen, Sierra turns the knife into the school office immediately upon discovering it, assuming it will be understood that she made an honest mistake. The principal, however, is not understanding. Rather, he cites the school’s zero tolerance policy, and sends Sierra to in-school suspension pending a hearing. For the first time in her life, Sierra is treated like a criminal, and though her father is ready to shame her principal into letting her off the hook, she is less certain that she shouldn’t be punished- or that she even wants to remain in a school that treats her so harshly.

Claudia Mills has written many school stories, but none is so timely as this 21st century tale. There are often reports on the news about kids bringing weapons to school, and also occasionally about kids who are wrongly accused or wrongfully punished for breaking a school’s zero tolerance policy. This book’s earnest main character takes readers inside such a sticky situation and gives them a firsthand look at the complications and consequences of applying a zero tolerance policy to every situation. Readers also have the opportunity to watch the way Sierra reacts to her new surroundings, where the other kids truly misbehave. Not only is this the story of a girl wrongfully accused, it is also the story of how this same girl’s eyes are opened to a segment of her school’s population which she has previously ignored, and how this experience broadens her horizons.

Zero Tolerance is a book I could easily sell to fans of Andrew Clements, especially those readers who have enjoyed Troublemaker and The Landry News. The issues presented in the story make it a logical choice for book groups or for classroom discussions, not just about the concept of zero tolerance, but also about misbehavior and what it means to be “good” or “bad.” It’s also a great example of a book with flawed but believably realistic adult characters. Girls and boys alike who appreciate issue-driven middle school stories won’t be disappointed by Claudia Mills’s latest project, and those who have grown up reading her books for slightly younger readers will be glad to have this new, more mature title on their shelves.

No comments:

Post a Comment