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Tree by Adam Rapp is an intense novel about life in a juvenile detention
home for boys. The novel describes the day-to-day existence of a twelve-year
old boy as he plods through a six-month sentence in a juvenile detention home.
is set in Hamstock Boys Center.
Twelve-year old Sura has been given a six-month sentence for stealing
Hoodies (car hood ornaments). As the novel opens, Sura is in his second month
in Spalding Cottage at Hamstock. His patchmate (room mate) is Coly Jo. Coly
Jo is also twelve-years old, but less mature. (He is afraid of the dark and
given to crying at night.) He is in Hamstock for breaking (and entering) into
peoples houses at night to watch them sleep. Hodge and Boo Boxfoot are two
bullies also living in Spalding Cottage. They are older and use violence to get
their way or to take whatever they want. (Boo has taken Coly Jos squirrel skin
hat and Hodge is extorting money from Sura for use of a nightstand.) When Coly
Jo steals back the tail from his squirrel skin hat, the bullies revenged the
act by having a bucket of sewage dumped on Coly Jo. The incident traumatizes
Coly Jo and his resultant behavior makes life more difficult for both of them.
Tree is narrated by the character Sura. This offers a unique perspective
and a challenge. Sura speaks as a young person and as an insider within the
juvenile detention system. The narrative is his stream of conscience, but what
is interesting is that he never drops his tough persona even when he should be
feeling fear or sorrow. He does not view the adults running the detention
center in a positive light. He views them as incompetent, abusive, or
hypocritical in their behavior. Mister Rose, Spaldings cottage pop, is viewed
as cruel and sneaky, perhaps more interested in watching pornography than
watching the boys at night. Dean Petty, Hamstocks administrator, is cold and
silent. Deacon Bob Fly, Suras patch mentor, seems focused on trying out the
latest pop psychology technique rather than trying to help Sura. Unfortunately
Sura views many of his co-juvies in flat or one-dimensional terms. Mazzie,
Suras mom, who conceived him at fifteen, is still struggling to make it
herself in the world. Sura also punctuates his story with the colorful
vernacular of his environment. Generally, it is easy to figure out what he is
talking about, but at other times, I was left totally confused. A glossary of
slang might have been a useful inclusion.
Adam Rapp is a playwright and author. He was born and raised in
Chicago and studied Creative Writing and Psychology at Clarke College. He has
been an Artist in Residence at Vassar and Dartmouth. He was the recipient of
the Herbert & Patricia Brodkin Scholarship (1997), two Lincoln Center LeComte
du Nouy Awards, a fellowship to the Camargo Foundation, the Princess Grace
Award for Playwrighting (1999), the Suite Residency with Mabou Mines (2000),
the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays
(2000), and the Helen Merrill Award (2001). His plays include Animals and
Plants (A.R.T. New Stages), Ghosts in the Cottonwoods (Victory
Gardens, Chicago; the 24th Street Theatre, Los Angeles; and the Arcola Theatre,
London), Blackbird (the Bush Theatre,
London; and the City Theatre, Pittsburgh), Finer Noble Gases (ONeill
Playwrights Conference, and Humana Festival, Louisville), Stone Cold dead
Serious (A.R.T., Feb. 2002), Dreams of the Salthorse (Encore
Theatre, San Francisco), and Faster (Rattlestick, New York). Nocturne (2000) was selected as one of the Burns Mantle Ten Best Plays of
the 2000-2001 Season. It was produced Off-Broadway (2001) and at the Cincinnati
Shakespeare Festival (2002). It received Bostons Elliot Norton Award for
Outstanding New Script and Best New Play by the Independent Reviewers of New
England. His novels include Missing the Piano (1994/95 Best Book for
Young Adults and 1995 Best Book for Reluctant Readers by the American Library
Association), The Buffalo Tree (1997), The Copper Elephant
(2000), and Little Chicago (2002). He
is currently lives in New York City where he is a Playwright in Residence at
by Adam Rapp is definitely intense. While it is labeled for Young Adult it
may be of more interest for pre-teens and while the novel is graphic and raw it
does not graphically describe either physical violence or sex. I would
recommend that adults read this book prior to recommending it to young people.
This would also be a worthy book to be read by teachers and other professionals
working with troubled youth. I highly recommend this book.
© 2003 Su Terry
Su Terry: Education:
B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from
Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral
Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from
New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual
Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the
United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at
Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested
in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area
of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian
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