Pros: detailed sections on each of the trials
Cons: annoying dialouge that probably never happenend
I think at one point in our adolescent lives we have all been bullied. Whether it was outright torment or petty bickering, being bullied can lead to feelings of anger, humiliation, irritation or revenge. The issue of bullied children took center stage when the Columbine incident destroyed a seemingly normal suburban high school environment in Colorado. The 1999 the parents in suburban Colorado couldnt believe that this tragedy had happened but in 1993 a group of bullied youths took revenge on their bully, brutally murdering him in a desolate Florida swamp.
For Marty Puccio being friends with Bobby Kent was something that was natural. They had known each other since they were in elementary school and it seemed in their relationship being opposites attracted them together. Bobby was wildly popular in school, a body builder pumped up on steroids who wanted to go into the car stereo business. Marty was shy and skinny, a gifted surfer whose family called him Loverbug. In the beginning their relationship seemed just like any two boys friendship would bethey dated girls, lifted weights, and worked at a local deli shop, doing all of these things together like best friends would.
However what people did not know was that their friendship was anything but equal with Marty taking the brunt of Bobbys psychological and physical abuse. When Marty meets Lisa Connelly their twisted relationship at first seems to be a plot to kept Bobby busy and away from Marty. Connelly was an overweight teenager who had never had a boyfriend. When she met Puccio she knew that she had to be with him regardless of petty parental rules inflicted on them. Lisa set Bobby up with several friends, including Ali Willis, a ex teenage prostitute from Central Florida. After a night of partying, Ali accuses Bobby of brutally beating and raping her and breaks up with him for good. Lisa, desperate to get Bobby permanently out of Martys life, concocts a plan to have Bobby Kent murdered. She enlists Willis, her cousin Derek Dzvirko, a supposed hit man Derek Kaufman, and a few others to lure Kent to a distant location to have him killed or beat up although no one is certain what the actual plan is.
When the plans are set in motion Ali brings along her boyfriend Donald Semenec and Heather Swallers, both slacker drug users with no direction in life. Its in these people that Ali has found a family essentially, young people who worship the ground she walks on. Over dinner at a local Pizza Hut the group plots the murder of Kent and several days later Kent is indeed killed, stabbed by his best friend Marty and two other boys.
In the beginning and throughout the book Schutze sets a dramatic tine by introducing the players in the plot and the relationship between bobby and Marty. He portrays Bobby as a closet homosexual whose violent tendencies make Puccios life miserable. At the same time dont think for a second he makes Marty to be an unwilling participant in Kents actions. Schutze details the abuse that Marty and Bobby inflicted on others as they grew older. The author plays a game of show and tell creating excuses instead of simply stating the facts of the case. For example there is a long drawn out sub plot of Ali Williss life as a prostitute and a rape survivor, and Lisa Connellys life as a depressed and directionless teenager.
Its easy to see why so many people were outraged about this killing. Basically Schutze argues these kids were upper class high school drop outs who had were incredibly ignorant and did an evil crime without thinking of the repercussions. Regardless of the things that happened previously, the solid facts were that this group committed a brutal crime and all were found guilty. They were each given prison sentences with Puccio receiving the death sentence a sentence that was later overturned.
Schutze has the annoying habit of recreating dialogue between the murderers and it is so unconvincing its hilarious. Think of a geriatric old man ending every sentence with cool or various swear words in order to fit in with the young kids. Its annoying, repetitive and has no place in a book supposedly based on only facts. Schutze is an investigative reporter but apparently he didnt attend too many how to classes because his picture inserts are pretty pathetic. We get random pictures of houses, one really gruesome picture of Kent face down in the swamp and mug shots of the killers. Usually there are more pictures of the actual people before an incident happens but Schutze chooses not to indulge his readers.
Schutze is a accomplished story teller, but not a great investigative reporter. There were so many aspects of the book that were left out that I had to wonder where he got his information. Was it interviews with the parents or a guessing game pieced together from police interviews? There are detailed accounts of the trials but no updates on what eventually happens to the group. I was left intrigued but not really satisfied with the outcome of the book. The book raises the issues of parents not knowing what their slacker kids are up to, abuse between bullies and their victims and how a group of seemingly innocent teenagers could snap and brutally kill a comrade. I got to thinking (yes sometimes that happens) and it was hard for me to swallow that a fat depressed teenage girl could have convinced 6 other people to kill someone more powerful and popular than she. Was Connelly a victim of circumstance or a cold-blooded she devil? Schutze certainly opens the door to many possibilities but ultimately lets the reader decide for themselves.
FYI: In 2001 a controversial adaptation of this book was released directed by Larry Clark. Its stars Brad Renfro, Rachel Miner, Bijou Phillips and Nick Stahl.