Just a week after the horrifying events at Sandy Hook Elementary, This Is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell came into the library. It was a chilling coincidence. I showed it to my colleagues and we debated whether we even wanted to read it. The pain of the recent events was still very raw but I felt someone should read it and so I checked it out. It sat on my “book shelf of good intentions” for several weeks before I picked it up. I am very glad that I did. McDowell tells the story of two teens, Emery and Jake who volunteer to teach French to a class of first graders. They are there when a father, who is a veteran of the Iraq War, comes in demanding to leave with his son. He is in a custody battle with his wife. The soldier is suffering from severe PTSD like so many of our brave men and women who come home. The two teens try to take care of the children after something happens to the teacher. I won’t give away what happens. Just read it. The story is told in alternating voices of Emery and Jake. We learn that Emery and Jake were in a relationship that ended badly. During this tragedy they also try to sort out their feelings for each other. I read this in one day, I couldn’t put it down.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Talk about how Emery’s mother is a helicopter parent. Would you want your parent to be like that? Why or why not?
If you were Cole would have you have admitted the drugs were yours? Why do you think he did what he did?
Talk about security at school. What kind of security do they have? How does it make them feel?
What do they think of the new talk about having school staff carry guns during the school day? What do they think about the gun control debate?
If you were Emery would you forgive Jake for what he did?
Did Emery’s friend Tab have a right to do what she did with the letter? How would you feel if that happened to you.
Talk about the Iraq War and what the teens may know about PTSD.
Discuss the Dylan Thomas poem with the line, “After the first death, there is no other.”
Discuss the Sandy Hook tragedy.