MCDOWELL, Beck. This Is Not a Drill. 216p. CIP. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2012.Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25794-0. LC 2012011083.
Gr 7 Up–High school students Jake and Emery have been paired up to teach French three mornings a week to Mrs. Campbell’s first-grade class. They’re in the middle of a lesson when a student’s father bursts through the classroom door to get his son. Mrs. Campbell cannot release the boy until she is given permission from the office, and she stands her ground even after the man pulls a gun, but when the diabetic teacher goes into insulin shock, Jake and Emery are left alone to deal with the children and the gunman. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the two teens. It shifts between what’s taking place in the classroom and memories of events in their lives, including their own failed relationship. What makes this story stand out are the discussions between Emery and the gunman, who is suffering from PTSD. He tells her about his experiences in Iraq and how they have affected his life back home. He talks about how his frequent violent nightmares have led to his pending divorce and the loss of custody of his son. Despite the fact that he is holding a classroom of first graders hostage at gunpoint, readers clearly see that he is as much a victim as the school security guard he just shot. McDowell balances the gunman’s plight against his son’s shame, fear, and divided loyalties. Written in a format that will appeal to reluctant readers, this first novel is an excellent choice for sparking classroom discussion.–Cary Frostick, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA