Using the plot device of an anger management group for troubled teens, Crutcher presents three novellas that explore the reasons why each member has been referred to the group.
There are a couple of familiar characters from Crutcher’s other novels or stories: Angus Bethune, the fat teen with two sets of gay parents from “Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories,” finds friendship and the surprising possibility of love with Sarah Byrnes, the burned girl from the novel “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes,” as they take a road trip to Reno to find the mother who abandoned her to her violent father shortly after he purposefully burned her hands and face on a wood stove.
In another novella, Crutcher explores the spiraling damage of a hate crime badly handled by a school principal and superintendent. Matt Miller, a straight-laced Christian teen finds himself speaking out on behalf of Marcus James, the only black, and only out gay teen in their rural high school.
Then there is Montana West, the adoptive daughter of the school board president, a rigid and controlling man. With the help of a teacher, Montana decides to challenge the school’s decision not to run her article on medical marijuana in the school paper. Meanwhile, at home, her father has decided to return a little girl to the foster care system, and Montana faces him down on that issue as well.
These novellas are absorbing, engaging reading, and make a good choice for reading aloud, or recommending to reluctant readers. They would serve very well for classroom or book group discussion, and are likely to lead readers to Crutcher’s other books, as well as to other books about teens facing extremely difficult obstacles.
The device of the angry management group is almost extraneous; it either should have been better fleshed out and incorporated into the book, or left out altogether. However, this is a minor detraction from an excellent book that should be in every teen collection.