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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Zero Tolerance, written by Claudia Mills. Square Fish, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $7.99 ages 10 and up

"By four-thirty, Sierra had talked to six reporters; she had left a message for the seventh, but he hadn't called her back yet. Each time she told the reporter the exact same story in almost the exact same words. By the  sixth time, it had all begun to feel like just that, a story: something that had happened to somebody else, and not to her at all."

Oh, boy! What can happen when rules are created with a no tolerance caveat?
In her new novel, Claudia Mills pens another story for middle grade readers who like their school stories to have some conflict and two opposing sides to an issue. I think they will like it!

Sierra's school has a zero tolerance policy concerning weapons: no weapon for any reason, under any circumstance. She and her parents have read the policy, signed the form. When Sierra mistakenly takes her mother's lunch bag to school, opens it in the canteen to find a paring knife for cutting the apple in it, she immediately takes it to the lunch room supervisor. That action sets off a string of events that sees Sierra serving an in-school suspension until a school district hearing can determine her fate. You can hear the gasps, and 'you've got to be kidding', can't you? Of course, she didn't mean to bring it to school. Of course, she did the right thing handing it in before anyone could get hurt. Does that matter?

When rules are set and policies established that are effective and attention-getting, the administration is bound by them. Mr. Besser, the principal at Sierra's school, is forced to follow the protocol set out, and to mete out the appropriate consequences for any violation. Sierra's parents are furious; her father, a hard-headed attorney, gets the word out. Soon, the media is covering the story and bringing a lot of unwanted attention to the school and school district.

After priding herself on her leadership, her outstanding grades and the many accomplishments she has managed to amass at school, Sierra is upset to be treated so badly. While serving her suspension Sierra spends time with students in whose company she would not often find herself. She learns a lot about them, especially Luke. In a rash moment, she does something that leads to some unexpected results. In dealing with the repercussions, and spending time with Luke and others who are also suspended, she begins to broaden her own thinking about rules and ownership for her actions.

This is a story that moves very quickly, and is sure to invite a good deal of discussion for those who share it. There is much to be considered as the story is told. As you would expect, people are going to come down on both sides of the issue, and solutions are not always cut and dried. The adults leave a lot to be desired in terms of understanding and guidance; the teens have much to say about the need for tolerance in any situation. Differing points of view are sure to be discussed and I think that might be the best thing about sharing this book in a classroom setting. 

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