Todd Strasser

Discussion on diction and syntax in Todd Strasser's Boot Camp

[(Essay date June 14th,2014) In this scholarly criticism, B.B. examines how the ironic diction and formal syntax contrast the reality the characters in Strasser's novel face.]

In Todd Strasser's Boot Camp the main character is sent away to a correction's camp called "Lake Harmony" however, this camp is anything but harmonious. Here he endures hell and the mistreatment from others. Not only is the name of this camp ironic but also other aspects of this boot camp. Here the main character, Garrett, finds himself struggling to remain sane while Strasser uses contrasting diction and syntax to show the drastic differences of what one sees on paper and what one actually encounters.

First off, the name of this camp is called "Lake Harmony" this camp is not like a summer camp but rather a place where parents send their children who need to be "corrected" after getting in trouble with the law or disobeying household rules. The only harmony demonstrated in this camp is when instructors and higher level attendees work together to beat up other teens attending the camp. At this institute the teens, "start at six A.M... run and do drills until eight A.M. and then wash up for breakfast at 8:30. After breakfast we study in classrooms until lunch. After lunch we have more studies, then more drills, then Circle. After comes Dinner, then Reflections" (Strasser 43). This schedule would be pleasing to parents that feel that their child needs structure and discipline. Although, this may not appear bad the camp "conveniently" forgets to mention how many drills are completed and the fact that they will do anything to make an individual participate in group sessions. The use of this structured syntax allows the parents to be manipulated by the camp thinking the structure will build better more structured children however it literally kills them.

In addition to the name of the camp, at the beginning of each chapter there are excerpts from the "manual" teens are given the first day they attend which lay out the rules and guidelines of the camp. The statements taken from the manual are written as if they were facts. The structured sentences highlight the structured program that is run however they are just statements no detail is given for each "fact". For example "'Lake Harmony has your parents' consent to administer whatever punishment is deemed necessary'" (30) this statement is most likely interpreted by parents or teens as, punishment when it is actually necessary and only use physical punishment when that person poses a threat to others. Unfortunately for Garrett, he finds that this statement actually means brutality of any kind from anyone is allowed for any reason. Garrett is forced to share his feeling in a group circle but he gives an answer that the supervisor does not find sincere so he sent him to Isolation. In isolation the teens who have been there longer and are considered on the right track come in with orders from the supervisor to kick, slap or twist as long as it doesn't leave a mark. This torture is the exact opposite of the type of "punishment" one would have thought of when reading the manual.

There are many other iconic names given to different aspects of this camp. For instance each group or "families" as they are referred to, have different names. The group that Garrett is in is called "Dignity" which is another cruel awakening to Garrett when he finds that everyone in this group lacks dignity. Members of this group lack any moral standards although this camp may be trying to teach the teens dignity the program does not only fail but promotes corruption and violence within the "family". The leaders of the families are called either "mothers" or "fathers" which instead of nurturing the teens they allow and exhibit violence towards the residents.
Finally, the use of these ironic names and falsely presented "facts" from the "manual" create such strong contrasts to the horrible circumstances that surround the characters that is easy to identify how horrific a life the characters are living. The oxymoronic naming of the different aspects of the camp highlights the exact opposite characteristics of each.

B.B. 2013

Discussion on the purpose of the letters in Todd Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun
[(Essay date June 14th, 2014) In this criticism B.B. examines the purpose of the suicide letters from both of the teens who intended to kill themselves and others]

Not only does this novel contain the thoughts and comments of their classmates, teachers neighbors and friends. It also contains the perspectives of the two boys who killed themselves and threatened to kill others. Instead of just using the speculation of outsiders Strasser uses the exact thoughts of the two teens, Gary and Brendon.
This book starts out with part of the suicide note Gary and Brendon wrote. As the story progresses more and more of the notes are reviled in addition to person emails and chats that are sent among the two. All of these entries express the exact mental state and moral standing the two characters have. Though the letters and emails each character is able to express their full believes because it is either just between each other or because they know that by the time the letters are read they will already be gone.

From the suicide note alone the mental state of Gary can be described as extremely depressed with no outlet and no one to turn to. In his letter he even states "I know that I will never be happy... It's entirely the matter of, What's the point of living?"(Strasser 1159). This statement is that of a boy who has given up on life and thinks that it will never get better for him. Gary does show sadness and sympathy for his mother when he tells her it's not her fault therefore, he does know how hard it must be for her to lose her son yet he thinks his pain outweighs her sorrow. He addresses the letter directly to her and signs it "Love Always, Gary" his depression must have been so bad that even writing an emotional letter to his mother does not stop him from killing himself and almost killing many others.

On the other hand, the suicide letter Brendon wrote was from a different disturbed mental state. His letter showed no regret for anything thing he was going to do or the people he was effecting. His letter was that of hate rather than depression. Unlike Gary's letter he addressed it to everyone in the town to let them all know that he did what he did because of them. He attacks the students, parents and teachers placing the blame on them he states, "I hope this gets printed in big, bold letters on the front page of the newspaper... You made my friggin' life miserable. How? By the way you raised your kids to all want the same and to hate anyone who dares to be a little different" (1313). With this statement Brendon demonstrates a deep rooted hate for the people he thought made his life miserable. His drive to harm others came from his hatred towards the people who ruined his life and the desire to have the upper hand.

In both letters they try and justify why they are not simply killing themselves but also why they are going to kill others as well. For both of them they want to make a statement, a twisted turn of events where the tormented become on the tormentors. In Gary's letter he writes "I could have just gone and offed myself quietly, but that would have been an even bigger waste. If I go this way, taking the people who made my life miserable with me, then maybe it will send a message" (1159). This is his reason for wanting to take other students with him, similarly Brendon writes that he wanted to hurt all the people who hurt him and this letter would hopeful "like a knife in your hearts" (1326). Though the way the letters are addressed are different they both have the same goal in mind, kill those who made your life miserable and make sure everyone knows why you are doing so.

Without the letters form the two boys there would be only speculation as to why they committed those crimes. Their friends, teachers, peers and neighbors may have been able to try and explain why they think the events took place but having Gary and Brendon explain themselves through their own letters connects all the events and gives an insight on the emotional state of each boy.

B.B. 2013