Life Skills by Jo Ramsey

LIFE

Life Skills by Jo Ramsey
Publisher: Featherweight Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (66 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Brian Monahan thinks his school’s new community service requirement is ridiculous. Especially when he’s told that since he didn’t submit his own community service proposal, he’s been assigned to volunteer in his school’s Life Skills class. But despite himself, he begins to enjoy working there and likes helping the kids.

When he sees one of the Life Skills students being bullied in the school cafeteria, Brian intervenes. He’s been bullied enough himself because of his sexuality, and he refuses to let it happen to anyone else. Using his experience in coordinating his school’s Day of Silence, supporting GLBT students, he decides to organize a “Spread the Word to End the Word” rally at his school, using the national campaign against the “R-word.” But can Brian pull it off?

Brian is called into his Guidance Counselor’s office to explain why he hasn’t turned in his community service proposal. He’s resisting doing the project because it makes high school feel even more like prison than usual. What was the point? Now, since he hadn’t thought up a plan for himself, he’s given a project instead. Every other day he has to assist the teacher in the Life Skills class – for children with special needs. Quickly calculating, Brian works out it’s only for fifteen days – not the end of the world after all. After the first few classes though, he discovers he likes the kids. More and more frequently he finds himself helping them, protecting them from bullying and becoming friends with the other students.

This is an enjoyable Young Adult book, I found it to be easily relatable to and with a good message. There is no overt profanity (though there are a few initial “community service sucks” style comments) and I feel the majority of parents won’t have any concerns with the language. Personally, I also enjoyed how Brian is testing out different things emotionally with his personal relationships. He’s openly dating both a girl – Trista – and a boy – Javier. All three of them know the score and there aren’t any secrets. While I felt this added to the realism of teenagers exploring their desires – I could also understand some parents might not be comfortable with this, particularly for their teenage children. There is nothing more heated than a few kisses shared between some of the characters, and while the challenges of dating two different people is explored, it’s a secondary plot.

I also particularly like how, while a good protagonist, Brian isn’t perfect. He’s realistic. He drags his feet over the assignment, hoping it will go away. He’s not jumping with eagerness to help in the Life Skills program – though he does admit he has nothing against the children themselves – he just doesn’t want to lose his spare class and have more work on his shoulders. When he gets to the class he’s extremely polite and tries to be as helpful as he can be. He’s a very understandable teenage boy and at heart a very good character. I enjoyed how as he came to know the students and the challenges and bullying they face Brian became far more eager and leapt in to do what he could to help and support these kids. I feel other young boys and girls will be able to relate well with him, and maybe have their eyes opened to situations outside their own personal experiences. Showing respect to others and how unthinking/unconscious some bullying can be also is a strong lesson here.

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