four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
Jim Shepard
user_rating: 
0

A-ProjectX"I'm the kid you think about when you want to make yourself feel better," says eighth-grade outcast Edwin Hanratty. Edwin hates school, hates the jocks who mock him, and hates trying in vain to find someone to sit with at lunch. He's a very smart boy, but neither his parents nor his teachers appreciate his talents. Together with Flake, the only person lower on the junior-high pecking order and Edwin's only friend, the two boys brainstorm ways to exact revenge. Flake's father's gun collection becomes key to the alienated boys' Columbine-style retribution.
Knopf. 164 pages. $20.

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Nihilistic at its heart, Jim Shepard's vision is confident and impenetrable. ...The novel is remarkable not so much for its story as for its bizarrely accurate re-creation of the flat affect and the inner torment of youth." Max Winter

NYTimes Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In Project X [Shepard] lays down innocuous sentence after innocuous sentence until you find, to your surprise, your heart lurching. ... Shepard is at his most brilliant in capturing the demented essence of junior high." Stephen Metcalf

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"...Shepard obviously has a lock on the new American paranoia, and his voice should be essential reading. ... A reader finishes ...buzzing with awe, with respect and, yes, with a great deal of worry." John Freeman

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Owing much more to The Catcher in the Rye than to A Clockwork Orange, ... Project X will undoubtedly jolt, but its charge is as much a shock of recognition as one of the too-common horrors of cable news and hometown tragedy." Joel Turnipseed

Critical Summary

What would possess two boys to kill their classmates? Shepard doesn't provide any straightforward answers, but he expertly imagines the mindset of one miserable and wounded adolescent. It's an eye-opening portrait. The narrator is in turns funny, sympathetic, and rude, but he's not obsessed with video games or music by Marilyn Manson. And he still feels homicidal. Most reviewers compared this short novel to DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, the 2003 Booker Prize-winner on the same subject. And in every case, critics dubbed Project X the far superior work. It's pitch-perfect, bold, and not easily forgotten, particularly if you have teenagers.