Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns in Young Adult Novels

Alone with a corpse in an isolated cabin in an Artic wilderness. The corpse is your father. You are 14.
REVOLVER by Marcus Sedgwick, Roaring Brook Press, 2009
Starting on the first page, this Young Adult novel chills the bones. A sinister character arrives and the situation worsens. He wants his share of stolen gold that dates back ten years to the Alaskan Gold Rush in 1898. He has no patience and he threatens violence. Sig, the son of the dead man, knows nothing about the gold. He does know a loaded Colt revolver is hidden in the cabin storeroom.

The author of numerous acclaimed novels, Marcus Sedgwick lives in Sussex, England. A Horn Book review suggests that fans of Gary Paulsen and Jack London will be drawn to this high anxiety tale. 
Sedgwick paints with bold brush strokes on a wide outdoor canvas but creates a landscape of human emotions. The characters of Sig and his father are fleshed out with the details of a painter given to tiny, layered strokes. Those who analyze such things say that English writers tend to inflict more emotional pain and physical suffering on their characters than American authors do. It seems true here.

A Horn Book reviewer pointed to a “wealth of moral concerns--good versus evil: faith, love, and hope; the presence of God: survival in a bleak landscape; and trusting the lessons parents teach…”. I liked all the contrasts because they provide endless grounds for discussion.
This is definitely a YA for the reader able to handle mature concepts, however. There is murder, rape, death, greed, threats, bullying, and intense fear on all counts. As the plot evolved I felt as if I were watching a snake think. Is that beady-eyed slithery reptile more afraid of me than I am of it? Sig’s courage develops as he assesses the stranger. Is the snake (bad guy) poisonous or not?

Meanwhile, the Colt revolver awaits, loaded and ready. Sig’s father said it would protect him.  His feeling of security grows. Or is it false security?
The author shares an anonymous but telling quote from a newspaper of the early 1900’s: “It wasn’t God or the Declaration of Independence that made all men equal. It was Samuel Colt.”

Does Sig use the Colt to save his family, even a score, intimidate, or kill? What would the reader do?
I repeat: the themes in Revolver offer endless grounds for discussion.


  1. Thank you, Joan. Sounds both suspenseful and challenging. Perfect for a children's book.

  2. Thanks, Kathy, It is as you say, suspenseful and challenging--and a formula for missing a night's sleep.


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