Cover image for The rifle
The rifle
Paulsen, Gary.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, [1995]

Physical Description:
105 pages ; 18 cm.
A priceless, handcrafted rifle, fired throughout the American Revolution, is passed down through the years until it fires on a fateful Christmas Eve of 1994.
Reading Level:
1480 Lexile.
Program Information:
Reading Counts RC 6-8 7.9 7 Quiz: 09744 Guided reading level: T.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Mass Market Paperback Classics

On Order



In 1768, a gunsmith named Cornish McManus built a rifle of such accuracy that he know he could never create another like it. He intended to treasure his masterpiece, but with a new wife to provide for, he felt pressed to sell it. Soon the rifle was helping one John Byam become a legendary sharpshooter in the American Revolution. But when Byam succumbed to dysentery, the weapon was passed on to yet another owner...and then to another and another, until the present day. Strangely, in all the time of the rifle after John Byam's death and through all the people who looked at it and held it to their shoulder, not once in the life of the rifle did anybody ever think to see if it was loaded. The rifle was loaded.

Author Notes

Gary Paulsen was born on May 17, 1939 in Minnesota. He was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California when he realized he wanted to be a writer. He left his job and spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader. His first book, Special War, was published in 1966. He has written more than 175 books for young adults including Brian's Winter, Winterkill, Harris and Me, Woodsong, Winterdance, The Transall Saga, Soldier's Heart, This Side of Wild, and Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books. Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room are Newbery Honor Books. He was the recipient of the 1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award for his lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-9. In his latest novel, Paulsen explores the history of a flintlock rifle, meticulously describing the skill and artistry of gunsmith Cornish McManus as he spends months creating a gun both beautiful and "sweet" (meaning accurate). Using his usual spare style, Paulsen describes the rifle's use in the Revolutionary War and follows its story into the twentieth century, when it is exchanged by a scathingly depicted gun fanatic for an Elvis-on-velvet painting, and ultimately ends up killing a teenager, Richard, in a freak accident that occurs without human intervention. The omniscient narrator, who speaks in an ironic tone reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut, details the events small and large (943 baseball games; finding a genetic cure for heart disease) that Richard missed by dying prematurely. Paulsen's message is clear and cutting: a machine made for killing, no matter how lovingly crafted and benignly kept, remains a machine made for killing. --Susan Dove Lempke

Publisher's Weekly Review

A gifted storyteller, Paulsen could have plucked this plot straight from any newspaper-an accidental shooting with a loaded gun. This tragedy doesn't occur until the final pages, however; with consummate skill, Paulsen slowly sets the stage by focusing on the weapon itself, a rifle made in 1768 and subsequently used in the Revolutionary War. He documents the painstaking, labor-intensive process of crafting a rifle by hand. And not just any rifle, but one that is "sweet"-a weapon of both beauty and deadly accuracy. He tracks its history, from the attic in which it languishes for centuries to the hands of an ultra-conservative gun freak (whose small-mindedness Paulsen exposes in withering detail), to the home of a mechanic who accepts it in trade for an auto repair. Only then do readers meet the boy Richard and sense impending doom. The remaining pages unfold with nervewracking leisure as readers squirm, awaiting the inevitable explosion. Although he sometimes uses his novel as a bully pulpit to fight the argument that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," his magnificent prose is as "sweet" as the rifle about which he writes. A truly mesmerizing tale, from beginning to end. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5 Up‘This novella focuses on a specific weapon crafted during the Revolutionary War. At the book's conclusion, set in 1994, this rifle still functions and performs as it was designed to do. Paulsen, who can create vivid portraits of individuals in relation to specific places, takes the focus off the people here, although they remain distinct characters, and puts this object‘a rifle‘at the core of the story. Although he seems to be saying that people don't kill people, guns do, this message is not sustained. The circumstances seem so unique and the love of weaponry so strong that the anti-gun theme is fatally weakened. For anyone whose mind is made up on this issue, this book will probably not change it. However, it could lead to intense discussion and exploration of how our society has evolved into its present gun-loving culture and into the intense anguish and human cost we collectively ignore as we continue our love affair with weaponry. For readers willing to think about this issue, for those looking for ways to introduce the debate, there is no better vehicle than this short, engagingly written story of one rifle and its fatal impact on one modern boy.‘Carol A. Edwards, Minneapolis Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.