Draper, Sharon M. The Battle of Jericho. Atheneum, 2005. ISBN 978-0689842337 pp.
A hazing incident culminates in loss of life at a high school where select teens compete to become members of a prestigious and long-standing community service organization. Jericho is excited to be chosen and happy that his circle of friends are also being invited into the inner circle, but as the initiation events become more intense, his discomfort level increases. Not only must Jericho examine his priorities (belonging to a social club verses preparing for his future career) but he also calls into question his personal ethics. Do girls deserve the same chances as boys, even when their emotional and physical well-being is threatened? Does being a man mean you shut up, or stand up?
The realistic plot raises many issues for discussion, including sex roles, peer pressure and hazing. The ending has a clever twist, with Draper manipulating the reader into thinking another character might be lost. However, reading this book was frustrating on several levels. Something about the dialogue, peppered with slang, didn’t quiet ring true for this reviewer; it could be the subject of the conversations isn’t always believable (boys having one-on-one conversations about the objects of their affection), and the use of black dialect is sometimes distracting to the story.
Above all, it is disconcerting that a seasoned author who makes a major mistake of first time writers won a major children’s book award for The Battle of Jericho. “Show not tell” is the first rule of good writing, and throughout the entire novel, Draper tells the reader how the characters are feeling and directs the reader how to take their comments by using language such as “Josh hooted” and “Arielle laughed.” She also modifies the “saids” with adverbs (“Rudy added ominously”) instead of conveying the thoughts and feelings of the characters through their actions and words. Hopefully, the next book by this dynamite storyteller will have a better editor.