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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, December 02, 2023

'Project X' marks the spot

For the majority of the population, junior high is normally not considered the most pleasant time of life. This is a period of cliques and self-consciousness in which an elite crowd rules the school. Arrogant teachers and principals make-believe they are relating to students, and parents don't have the faintest clue what daily life truly consists of from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 




But when current college students were stuck back in this cruelly endless time, the words \school shootings"" did not cause such immediate and intense connotations as they do today. ?? 




Now, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are familiar household names. Perhaps understanding their point of view would be a valuable step in preventing future school violence. 




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In his novel, ""Project X,"" author Jim Shepard does just this by presenting a troubled teenager who readers will empathize with. ??Shepard delves into the mind of Edwin Hanratty, an eighth grade loser whose days consist of beatings and taunting from classmates and teachers alike. ??  




Hanratty and his only friend, Flake, both provoke and endure the humiliation, but gradually sink into a sharp disdain and distrust of everything around them. 




Edwin's parents and brother work to understand him, but their complete incomprehension of his situation renders a giant wall between them. ??  




Finally, Edwin and Flake begin devising a plan of revenge that gives them what they feel is their one chance for salvation and justice. When they actually decide to carry it out, however, events spin out of control and end much differently than planned. 




Shepard's writing is dead-on, composed of sullen and accurate teen-speak. Compared by some reviewers to a young Holden Caulfield, his main character Edwin uses biting dialogue and inner thoughts that will quickly connect the reader to his confusion, hope and despair. ??  




Edwin's view of school is realistic and will mentally pull readers back into that vortex of snobs, jocks and druggies that, despite the clich??s, really did exist. Once sucked into Edwin's humorous yet heartbreaking world, the reader will have an extremely hard time putting down the book.  




In an interview found at, Shepard explained his reasons for writing the novel. ""I wanted to write about what an unhappy nexus of self-imposed and official/repressive misery [junior high] was."" ?? 




Aside from his own junior high experiences, which he refers to as ""a living hell,"" Shepard also sat in on junior high classes in both Los Angeles and Massachusetts to return to that unstable world. ??  




He went on to say that while writing the book, he strove to convey the painful inability of teenagers to express themselves to adults, even when they need to. 




In all of these respects, Shepard greatly succeeds. ""Project X"" will cause readers' minds to wander back to the almost-forgotten classmate or two, designated tormentee for those few angst-filled years, and to wonder what they might have been thinking. ??  




Within the first few pages of the book Edwin is not able to sleep at night so he gets up and stares into a bathroom mirror.??After mourning his ""eight feet long nose, crooked glasses and too-big lips,"" he says aloud, ""Somebody help me."" ??  




Shepard's words will make readers more aware of similar cries for help that go dangerously unnoticed, sometimes with disastrous results. 




""Project X"" is published by Alfred A. Knopf.

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