There are plenty of books out there in which a group of high school students end up accidentally, or otherwise, killing either a classmate or a schoolteacher. Usually there's a great amount of build up to the event. Maybe it's a mystery that you reach at the end. Maybe the kids are innocent of the crime and it's all about clearing their names. In the case of "Shattering Glass", however, the protagonist Young Steward does away with any and all misunderstandings right from the start. "Simon Glass was easy to hate. I never knew exactly why, there was too much to pick from. I guess, really, we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn't realize it until the day we killed him". And we're off!
Four good buddies, Young, Rob, Bob, and Coop are the top of the pecking order at B'Vale High School. They're handsome, popular, and all around respected fellows. Rob is the unquestioned leader of the group, so when he proposes a crazy quest nobody raises any objections. Rob has honed in on one Simon Glass, the resident loser of the school. Glass is fat, uncool, and socially backward. For Rob the ultimate challenge becomes the success of Simon Glass. He becomes obsessed with it, using all his charm and resources to persuade people to help him in his crazy scheme. Ever the follower, Young doesn't question Rob's goals. Not even when he discovers the dark secret hiding in his best friend's past. By the time the book reaching its horrifying conclusion you've already learned what happens to the four friends and the unfortunate Simon Glass.
The book isn't a whodunit. It's a towhatextentdunit. By reading the little quotes that appear at the beginning of each chapter the reader begins to get a sense of what happened the night of Simon's death. The question isn't what happened so much as it is, "Who was involved?". It's more, "To what extent was Young involved?". Giles is the master of the slow reveal. She gives us just enough information throughout the story to be interested. Then she'll toss in the occasional tantalizing detail just to suck us deeper into the story. Best of all, Giles never creates a character without there being some kind of backstory involved. If someone does something cruel or unfeeling, you can probably bet they've their own problems hidden away somewhere. What I liked best of all was the character of Glass himself. Simultaneously a victim and a victimizer, the object of everyone's attention turns out to be far cannier than anyone ever suspected. In a way, I saw this book as a kind of updated "The Chocolate War". In both cases a charming teen at the height of his school's society feels a need to keep himself at the top of the pecking order through the rigid control of others. The only difference is, in "The Chocolate War" the villain decides to destroy a fellow student. In this book, he aims to recreate him. And the results are almost identical.
Giles has debuted with a powerful first novel. The book isn't, for the record, actually as good as "The Chocolate War", but it is the rare young adult novel that makes you think. There's a lot of power behind Giles' words and her characters are a fascinating study. As a former substitute teacher, she's aware of her subject matter and their social constraints. Best of all, the book never falls into that old trap of an adult writing for teens and including lots of "hip" teen slang. The closest this book ever comes to slang is the occasional "Yo!". I can live with that. In the end, "Shattering Glass" deserves its praise. It may not be the nicest book about teen popularity out there, but it's certainly not the cruelest.