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“Bang!” by Sharon G. Flake

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“Bang!” is a young adult novel that takes the widely disputed and nationally debated issue of the rights to bear arms, a contention that dates back to the signing of our United States Constitution, and addresses it to today’s youth in a way that they can relate to.

Author Sharon G. Flake does this by telling a story through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Mann. Two years prior to the start of the book, Mann’s younger brother Jason was shot on the steps of their front porch. The ways in which his parents express grief are different, and both saddening in their own ways. Mann’s mother still seems to exhibit traits of denial, and has stopped eating. His father, on the other hand, develops the belief that the only way to keep his eldest son alive is to toughen up he and his friend Kee-Lee in increasingly harsh ways, such as deserting them at a campsite, and kicking them out of the house so they might fend for themselves.

This story, as hard to swallow as it may be, brings to light the issue of gun violence, especially in the low-incomes homes and neighborhoods. Although Mann does make mistakes throughout the progression of the book, he is a character who seems more human each chapter, and very relatable to young readers. He has friends, crushes, a side to his family that is loving and nurturing, and is artistically talented. These traits make him accessible, as well as his less endearing habits, such as slight substance abuse, underage driving, and other illegal activities.

To further help her readers connect to him, Flake gives Mann a voice, not the voice of a practiced writer or someone who has perfect grammar, but the voice of a teenager. This is something I find that authors often struggle with, how to make dialogue believable and relatable. Mann’s voice is wonderfully imperfect and unique to him. This made me love him and his story even more, and the tone was much more familiar to me than in many books, which made it an easier and overall more enjoyable read.

But Mann could not tell this story by himself. His father plays a very important role in the plot of the novel. I was impressed with Flake’s ability to show her readers all sides of even the most minor of characters, and to help them to see the good and bad in people.

Although Mann’s father makes many decisions I consider outrageous and uncalled for, Flake shows that his heart is in the right place. He kicked his own son out to fend for himself, but the way that the story is told, we know that he does this out of love and fear, and that evokes pity from the reader for Mann’s father.

Flake also builds the better side of Mann’s father by the use of flashbacks, in which Mann recounts particularly good memories with him.

This rounding out of characters, use of the protagonists voice, and development of Mann make this story relatable to teens, whilst confronting the controversial subject of gun rights. All in all, “Bang!” is a well-written story with a well-woven plotline that is well worth a read.

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