Breaking Point, Alex Flinn, Harper Tempest 2002, (ISBN #0-06-447257-4)
Paul Richmond, a Navy brat, moves from homeschooling to a fancy private school, Gate-Brickell Christian, after his lieutenant colonel father has an affair and divorces his teacher-mother. On his first day at Gate, he meets a girl named Binky and a boy named Charlie Good.
Without Binky, life would be pretty terrible for Paul. The kids at school look down on him because his mother is a teacher there. Thanks to his father, Paul looks down on her too. His father, busy with a new wife and baby, ignores his calls and finally tells him to go away. He feels responsible for being a surrogate man of the house for his mother, who is clingy and insecure. This is far too much pressure for Paul, and only drives him away from confiding in his mother about anything happening in his life. Binky knows the score from way back, and knows it wasn’t that much easier on David Blanco, son of the school janitor. When David’s dog is found killed, the school population tacitly blames David, because it’s easier than figuring out which one of the children of privilege is the corrupt one.
In the midst of all this, Charlie Good starts asking things of Paul. If there is an uppercrust at the upper crust school, Charlie is it. He seems, in many ways, to be nearly as lonely as Paul. His father pushes him to be a tennis overachiever, and his mother is barely present. Charlie’s method of blowing off steam is a little harmless vandalism. After a fight with his mother, Paul, tortured by feelings of rejection at the hands of his father, is exhilarated by his night of petty theft and mailbox smashing.
Suddenly, however, it doesn’t seem so harmless when Charlie asks Paul to break into the school and change his grade. Paul starts to get the idea that Charlie is manipulative… but he has yet to find out how manipulative.
Breaking Point is told in first person, which adds to the immediacy of the story. Charlie is chillingly and perfectly drawn, and the reveal of his more sinister side is done with impeccable pacing. Binky sits in the background as a judicious observer who knows more than she says, and the readers easily keep pace with Paul on his journey, from what he knows to when he knows. The choice to make Paul’s father so cold and uncaring may seem implausibly villainous in a story, but I was certain that at least one reader will have experienced the same reaction in real life. One does wonder why at least one person in the neighborhood couldn’t hear or see the orgy of mailbox destruction, but this is a quibble, because discovery would have taken away from the almost oddly idyllic and magical feeling of following along on Paul’s night of chaos. The readers hope for some peace for Paul and to find a place where he belongs, and the story is resolved in a realistic and satisfying manner.
Paul Richmond’s father doesn’t care, his mother pulls her hair, and Paul feels as if he doesn’t belong anywhere. When Paul gets mixed up with the charming Charlie Good, he’ll alienate his only friend, steal a few dozen bagels, smash a few mailboxes – but wait until you see what Charlie has in store for Paul next.
“I write for teens because I never finished being one,” commented author Alex Flinn in an interview with a contributor for Embracing the Child. Flinn also noted on her author Web site, “In my mind, I am still thirteen-years-old, running laps on the athletic field, wearing this really baggy white gymsuit. I’m continually amazed at the idea that I have a checking account and a mortgage.” Despite their author’s outlook, Flinn’s young adult titles are anything but nostalgic looks back at childhood. Instead, she has produced two highly praised and edgy novels for young adults. Breathing Underwater is about an abusive relationship and dating violence and the other, Breaking Point, focuses on school violence and peer pressure. Interestingly, both books are told from the point of view of a young male. As Flinn told Embracing the Child, “I mostly just listen to the voices in my head and see who is talking.”
Realistic/Crime and Criminals
Read aloud Chapter 15, wherein Paul finally makes phone contact with his father.
Reading Level/Interest Age:
Very likely – vandalism, illicit grade-doctoring and a plot to blow up the school all figure into the story. If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the book was added to our collection.
Ms. Flinn is the author of the very popular “Beastly” and writes compellingly well on many topics, making her a very versatile choice for a collection.