Author: Ron Koertge
Publisher: Candlewick Press (2001)
No. of Pages: 113
Audience: 13-18 males and females. This book would be good for small group discussion for Youth Group or with a Sunday school class.
Summary: This book of poetry is written by a single (adult) author about a fictitious high school called Brimstone. The story line follows 15 students from different social strata within the high school culture and records their “diaries” for a period of time leading up to a failed mass shooting attempt. This book is perhaps more useable with a wider age range than a book wherein the planned killing is achieved since younger readers might find that outcome too disturbing.
Literary elements at work in the story: Since there is a plot line that is being served by the free- verse poems, the movement is linear and progressive. Each poem is designed to add another piece to the picture of what is being plotted by one group of students. Presenting the poems as individual’s journal entries makes it more interesting than a single antagonist and in this way there are sub-plots woven into the story. Having a variety of voices and perspectives also keeps the poems fresh in this relatively simple story line.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/abilities: The author has done a decent job of creating a cross-section of the average American high school culture. There are voices from the African-American community that address race and social status, a girl with sexual orientation issues, a young conservative Christian who falls for a “player”, the outcasts, misfits, young thugs, and sports stars all find a place in this poetic drama. While some of the character types are a bit cliché, there is someone for just about any young adult reader to identify with in some way.
Scripture: Prov. 2:19-20, Prov. 3:29-31, Prov. 16:28-29, Prov. 24:8-12
Theology: Proverbs is one of those books of the Bible that receives very little, if any, attention in most Sunday school classes. The occasional misquoted or misattributed proverb pops up from time to time, but few people study this wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The scripture selections are advice to the faithful and can serve as a wonderful starting point for discussion not only of the purpose and interpretation of the Book of Proverbs, but as a catalyst for conversation about the unchanging nature of sin…what was true in the day of Proverbs still holds true even in the hallways and classrooms of today’s modern high school: There is maliciousness, violence, gossip, ambivalence, fear, “group think,” and temptation to sins of all kinds, just to name a few! How do we then strive to live the Christian life in this world? How do we take the advice of Scripture and follow in the straight path, avoiding the by-ways and turn away from the “road-side attractions” when all around us there are enticements, antipathy and trepidation? Young people struggle greatly every day to answer these questions, consciously or subconsciously, when they arrive at their schools or hang out with their friends. By pairing The Brimstone Journals with a study of Proverbs, there can be rich ground for conversation about the nature of sin, violence, friendship (neighbor), etc. It is also a chance for young adults to spend some time in the Old Testament world and grow in their understanding of how some of the New Testament writings have their roots in this soil.
Faith Talk Questions:
- First, I would ask the students to make a list of all the issues they can identify in the book and in the verses from Proverbs.
- Of all these issues you named, which ones are going on in your school? Are they more or less intense than the situation in the book/Proverbs? In what way?
- Do you identify with any one character in particular? Why? Would you say that person was misunderstood? Why (not)?
- How would you define “group think”? Did you see that happening in this book? Do you ever see it in your school? Have you ever fallen into “group think” only to realize it later? What was the outcome?
- We can probably all agree that violence, in general, is a bad thing; but what do you make of the verses from Proverbs 24? What does it seem to be saying about the onlooker or bystander? Do you agree with this? Why (not)?
- If you were a student at Brimstone High School, what do you honestly think you would have done in that situation?
- How can your faith be a guide when you are feeling overwhelmed by a situation at school or with friends? Where can you turn if you think the problems are too big for you to handle?
Review prepared by Nadine Ellsworth-Moran, MDiv/MACE, Entering Cohort Fall 2004
The Brimstone Journals by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.