Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: The Word Gang

"The Word Gang" is the story of three kids in school who start using big words to be disruptive.

Kalisha Jackson is a girl with a stomach-churning secret - she cut school for a year and never got caught A new year begins. Kalisha decides to go back to school. While waiting for the bus she sees an old man struggling with a cart full of groceries. She stops to help and meets Albrecht Spinoza, a man who can speak seventeen languages, but who's had no one to talk to since the death of his beloved wife, Rosa. 

Kalisha is late the first day setting off a conflict with her teacher, Jack Ralston. She's been stuck in something called "Project Restart," a strange new program in which the penalty for not doing well is a special classroom in Juvenile Hall. Mr. Spinoza gives Kalisha a copy of the Compact Oxford Dictionary. But the more "big" words Kalisha learns, the less everyone understands her and the madder Jack Ralston seems to get. Which to Kalisha and her new friends sounds like fun - and a great way to destroy Project Restart.

That is, if they don't get "trammeled," "proscribed," or "incarcerated," first.
        - Goodreads


-          Format: ebook
-          Publisher: Precipitation Press
-          Release Date: December 8, 2010
-          File Size: 490 KB

Favorite Quotes:

  "Kalisha felt safe in a library, hidden in the tall book stacks. She once called them “canyons carved by a flood of ideas” in a poem."

“Remember Kalisha, the third definition of a word can be as important as the first.”

"Each word was like a miniature history lesson."

“The more one studies language, the more one learns the power of words. The power to attack. The power to destroy. Ordinary people do this.”

"All words are ordinary, once you know them."

The Word Gang by Mark McKenna is about a girl named Kalisha who is placed in an experimental program for troubled students called Project Restart.  She had skipped almost the entire school year the year before and this was her new school’s response to dealing with that.  While Kalisha had reasons for skipping school (her parent’s divorce, her best friend had a baby and dropped out, being responsible for taking care of her younger siblings), she knows that it was wrong and that her parents will be disappointed in her when they found out.  She is nervous about returning to school but finds comfort after meeting an elderly man named Mr. Spinoza.  Mr. Spinoza is a widow who is wrapped up in writing his “philosophy” and has become a recluse.  The pair find common ground over their love of reading and learning new words.  

In Project Restart Kalisha meets a couple of boys that she quickly becomes friends with-- BD and Sahmbaht.  Both have their own issues and reasons for being in this classroom.  After Kalisha stands up to Mr. Ralston (the vice principal and powerhouse of the program), they become eager to join her.  They begin referring to themselves as “The Word Gang” and learn outdated and difficult words to use in class.  Mr. Ralston doesn’t understand what they’re saying and implements a new policy that bans the use of “mocking language.”  Their continued use of these words sends them on the fast-track to being kicked out. 
I really liked the idea of this book.  It’s nice to read about students who find enjoyment out of reading, even if the root of it is to embarrass their teacher!  I have to say that the book kind of lost me right away in the beginning with the fact that no one had noticed that Kalisha had skipped a whole year of school.  Are there really school districts that don’t turn these cases over to the juvenile court system?  The book jumps to the differing perspectives of the characters and shows their inner monologue; this was a good way to get the background on everyone.  Another problem that I had was that the teenagers’ thoughts and dialogue didn’t seem realistic a lot of the time (for “troubled youths” none of them really behaved that way).  BD in particular threw me off; it seemed that he was talking about his father’s alcoholism and abusive behavior every time he spoke to someone when at the beginning of the book he was very private about this topic.  I found that all of the main characters’ attitudes and behaviors changed quickly after very little happening in their lives.  

I absolutely love Mark’s website ( and the extra information that he provides.  There is a free Readers’ and Teachers’ Supplement to the book that contains descriptions of the characters (I almost think it might be better to start with reading these and then read the book), synopses of all of the chapters, footnotes, discussion topics, and common core writing assignments.  This is a great start for any teachers who want to include the book in their classroom reading.  He also goes into detail about how he became a writer and the long process he went through.  It’s nice being able to make a connection to him and know how passionate he is about his work.



Stepping Out of the Page said...

This sounds really interesting, I'm definitely going to check it out after reading your review! I'm glad that you enjoyed it so much.

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Jenna and Ashley said...

Well welcome, Stephanie! I'm always happy to hear that a review on our blog has peaked someone's interest!

Ashley @ Fans of Fiction