Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: Response by Paul Volponi

Sometimes you want a long, meandering book with a zillion different plot points, intricate character interactions, and pages and pages of luscious descriptions.

And sometimes you just want to get to the point.

Paul Volponi's Reponse is a slim book with a one track mind. One night Noah and his friends decide to cross into a predominantly white neighborhood and steal a car. Before they can attempt it, however, they are chased by three white teenagers and Noah is viciously attacked with a baseball bat. The white boys claim they were protecting their neighborhood and their property but the city suspects otherwise and begins a hate crime investigation.

And that's pretty much all there is to the book. There are some very short detours into Noah's personal life - his grandmother's failing health, dealing with his six-month-old daughter and mother, a soul-killing job at McDonald's with a racist boss, and life at their racially mixed school, where most students are on Noah's side but a vocal minority insists on wearing T-shirts pleading for the jailed white kids' freedom.

But these scenes rarely last for more than a page - the point of this book is a hate crime was committed and we're going to get a brief glimpse at what the judicial process is for prosecuting that crime. How does it feel when a sentence is reduced for "cooperating"? Do the perpetrators deserve the full sentence?

The book moves at a breakneck pace, which made me feel like a lot of possible emotional impact was lost. Lots of relationships could have been fleshed out. On the other hand, the lack of distractions from the main plot could make this an excellent novel for "reluctant readers" - what my mom would call a low level/high interest book: someone in high school wouldn't have to be reading at "high school level" in order to enjoy and understand this book.
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