Published by Focus on the Family Publishing, Tyndale on March 9, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Young Adult, Suspense
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A school project goes terribly wrong in this middle-grade thriller about ex-homeschooler and Christian teen Hudson Sutton and his experiences in his new school. When he makes two friends and attempts to take on an established hierarchy of bullying, he doesn't realize he's taking a risk he never expected--becoming a bully himself.
From the same author who wrote the suspenseful fiction Code of Silence series, this is a realistic look at the extent and reality of bullying, especially through social media, with a Christian protagonist who learns that relationships, bullying, and doing the right thing are a bit more complicated than he realized. It also touches on the subject of suicide.
Easy Target is a good example of a novel that never quite understood the kind of tone it wanted to set. At the outset, we’re thrown into a world set from the kid-perspective, where parents and teachers are mostly clueless and irrelevant (until they have to swoop in to save the day), allowing the kid’s plans to run virtually unchecked. But by the end, well…just follow me on this.
Easy Target follows Hudson, a formerly-homeschooled middle school student trying to make his way in this new realm of public school with its cliques, social stratification, and bullying. The bullies run the school, while the teachers do little to nothing to stop them. Hudson and his group of misfits decide they’re going to fight back.
Their tactics grow more and more bold—as in, they quickly become the bullies—and things escalate until the end of the book in no way matches with the beginning. SPOILERS HERE…They bully the bullies so badly that the book ends with one of the bullies staging a school shooting with the goal of taking her own life.
The adults in this book are continuously incompetent. Small things include Hudson’s mom not being able to do her job by programming an electronic sign and letting Hudson work it out. The payoff to this plot point is that Hudson uses the sign to put the bullies on blast, naming and shaming them on the City’s billboard. And that’s just a silly example.
Early on, Hudson is beat up by seven of the school bullies. Although an adult breaks up the fight, he’s absolutely useless afterward, telling the kids that he’ll call their parents or the police but never doing either and letting them run off. The school principal knows that Hudson is behind some of the shenanigans meant to bring the bullies to vigilante justice, but lets it go on. At one point even agreeing to let the kids have one more day to exact their revenge. (The next day is when one of the bullies brings a gun to the school to kill herself.)
The Big Moral of the story is “Don’t react to bullying with bullying,” but the actual takeaway reads like “Adults are incompetent; fend for yourself” or “Don’t bully people. They might do a mass shooting.” The story shifts from the goofy 90s TV movie bully stereotype to holy crap, there’s going to be a mass shooting with an absolutely ludicrous storyline that, had the tone stayed the same throughout the book, Shoemaker might have been able to pull it off.
There’s no substance to the characters. Each one falls into a flat stereotype and their story arcs are telegraphed from their introductory paragraph. Even the school shooting, which was so out of the book’s scope early on, is clearly telegraphed. It’d be laughably cheesy if it wasn’t handling so serious a subject. More work was spent to create a message—a message that fails—then tell a good, coherent, age and tone appropriate story. Easy Target misses the mark completely.