Cover image for The Brimstone journals
The Brimstone journals
Koertge, Ronald.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
113 pages ; 24 cm
In a series of short interconnected poems, students at a high school nicknamed Brimstone reveal the violence existing and growing in their lives.
Reading Level:
610 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.2 1.0 46124.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.5 5 Quiz: 28221 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Young Adult

On Order



In a startling, often poignant student journal, acclaimed poet and novelist Ron Koertge creates a suburban high school both familiar and terrifying. The Branston High School Class of 2001 seems familiar enough on the surface: there's the Smart One, the Fat Kid, Social Conscience, Bad Girl, Good Girl, Jock, Anorexic, Dyke, Rich Boy, Sistah, Stud . . . and Boyd, an Angry Young Man who has just made a dangerous new friend. Now he's making a list. The Branston High School Class of 2001. You might think you know them. You might be surprised. A unique poetic novel, THE BRIMSTONE JOURNALS provides an ideal opportunity for young adults to discuss violence in schools.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-12. "He wants to be stopped." The teenage voices in this story sound like those interviewed on the nightly news about the latest high-school shootings. Fifteen students in a suburban high school speak in short poetic monologues, which are very easy to read. They are all troubled; some have a suppressed rage that could explode. Tran feels boxed in by his immigrant father's dreams; Kelli is trying to break with her macho boyfriend, Damon; Allison, who is being sexually abused by her stepdad, is "ready to kill"; David retreats and watches violent videos; Joseph is sick of his parents' passivity; Lester is always the bully's victim. At the center is Boyd, violent, racist, desperate, encouraged by an adult to join the "Brotherhood" and build an arsenal of guns and chemicals. Boyd makes a list of "everybody who ever blew me off, flipped me off, or pissed me off." The students hear about the list. The power is in the feeling of violence brewing. Who will be drawn in? Boyd even warns his favorite people to stay home first period on Tuesday. That's when someone realizes that "Boyd wants you to stop him." Will someone tell the authorities before it's too late? The ending is too hopeful; too many problems are solved. But Koertge avoids simplistic therapy, and the dramatic monologues are spare, poetic, and immediate, great for readers' theater and opening group discussion. See the Read-alikes on the opposite page for books about outsiders and violence in contemporary high schools. Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Through poems, Koertge (Where the Kissing Never Stops) creates 15 separate narrators, all seniors at Branston (nicknamed "Brimstone") High School, struggling with major problems. Boyd, a white supremacist neglected by his alcoholic father, is staging a school shooting spree. Even the school nurse and at least one teacher are racist: "Our homeroom teacher,/ Ms. Malone... / says black/ people have their own Heaven, but it's/ far enough away from ours so we won't/ have to listen to their music." As Boyd prepares a target list (of "everybody who/ ever blew me off, flipped me off,/ or pissed me off"), the other characters reach their own breaking points; some even consider buying guns from him to solve their troubles. While Koertge's pacing allows readers to sense the building tension, the brevity of the poems provides readers with little insight into the characters, so that they teeter on the edge of melodrama: Kitty is anorexic ("I think if I'm thin enough, I can fly"), Sheila wonders if she's a lesbian because she loves her best friend ("I want to go farther with Monica/ than just good-bye hugs"). Despite some memorable lines ("His dreams are like a box I cannot put down," says Tran, a Vietnamese teen who feels pressured by his immigrant father to become successful), the novel does not have enough heft to compensate for a cast that does not seem fully alive. Ages 14-up. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-The students at Branston (aka Brimstone), Koertge's "everyman's high school," know that violence is a fact of life circa 2001. But living in its midst, knowing it's there, and embracing it are very different things. In addition, the young people have other pressing concerns. Kitty's worried about eating-or, rather, not eating. Sheila's got a crush on another girl. Damon's looking for some action from his girlfriend. And Boyd is angry, just plain angry-and motivated. In short poems fashioned like journal entries, 15 kids are profiled, and their sometimes-raw voices provide poignant, honest, and fresh insights into today's teens. Branston could be anywhere, and, sadly, Boyd is an all-too-familiar character. He fuels his anger into a mental hit list of students who will be the target of his revenge. His credo is, "you're invincible until your number comes up." The profiles lead up to a clash of personalities and a strong conclusion in which tragedy is averted. It could have just as easily gone the other way. Young adults will have no trouble relating to the language and banter of these teens. They may even recognize themselves or their friends, for better or worse.-Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Lester My dad'd freak if he knew I played with it, but I can't help myself. And I'm not hurting anybody. The bullets are across the room in his sock drawer. The Glock is by the bed, same place as the condoms. I like to hold it in my hand. Everything gets sharper, I don't know why. I feel skinnier instead of just this big bag of fries and Coke and pepperoni. If I take off my clothes, it's cool on my skin. I'd never hurt anybody but if I did this is how I'd do it--butt naked. And I'd start in the gym. They wouldn't laugh then, would they? The jocks would crap their pants. The girls'd kiss my fat feet. Tran My father came here with his parents when he was ten. In the boat, there was room for two to sleep, so they took turns standing up. By 1980 they owned a small market. By 1990 three more. My mother and father often worked twenty hours a day. I started stocking shelves at age six. Everybody warned against black people, but who turned out to be full of hatred for our prosperity? Others like us, some from a village not five kilometers away from where my mother was born. Father does not want me to forget the country I have never seen. Every day an hour of Vietnamese only. Then another of music with traditional instruments. He wants me to be richer than he, more successful. Yet he begrudges one hundred dollars for the ugly new glasses I need. His dreams are like a box I cannot put down. Boyd Dad drifts in about three a.m. a couple of nights ago, and I'm just finishing up Dog Day Afternoon for the nineteenth time. He's still a little faded and sometimes that makes him all paternal, so he gets us a couple of beers. I've seen this before when he's shot some pretty good pool and some hootchie's told him he looks like Harrison Ford. Things are gonna change, he says. There's gonna be a lunch for me to take to school every day, sandwiches with that brown mustard. No more doing his laundry. And you know that dog I always wanted? It's mine. Part of me wants it to be true so bad my teeth hurt. But I'm not holding my breath. "So how's school?" Here we go. After he calls me stupid about ten times, I split. I run for like a block but I'm totally out of shape, so I just walk until I stop wanting to kill him. Then I crash in the basement. Allison A thirty-nine-year-old man in California drives his Cadillac into a playground and kills two kids because he wanted to execute innocent children. That isn't a sign of social collapse? Twenty-five million teenagers go to twenty thousand schools in the U.S. Ten kids, TEN KIDS, in seven schools did all the shooting, ALL OF IT, in 1998-99. In the same two years, grownups in southern California alone massacred forty people. I know what I'm talking about. I did research for this paper I had to write. I got a B- because my report "wasn't focused." Really? Could that be because when I was typing it my stepfather kept trying to massage my shoulders because I looked "tense"? I've told him I hate that. I've told my mom. She says he's just being friendly. The Brimstone Journals. Copyright (c) 2001 Ron Koertge. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA Excerpted from Brimstone Journals by Ronald Koertge All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.