Sunday, June 16, 2013

ARC Review: Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
240 Pages

Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she sees that she accidentally brought her mother's lunch bag to school, including a paring knife, she immediately turns in the knife at the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school's ironclad no weapons policy. While there, Sierra spends time with Luke, a boy who's known as a troublemaker, and discovers that he's not the person she assumed he would be--and that the lines between good and bad aren't as clear as she once thought. Claudia Mills brings another compelling school story to life with Zero Tolerance.

There are few middle grade stories that really capture my interest, as I'm an avid romance fan, but something about Zero Tolerance really just spoke to me. Maybe it's because I'd never read a book that brought this topic up and looked at it from a student's point-of-view, or maybe it's because even from the summary, I saw a lot of myself in Sierra's character.

Sierra Shephard is up for expulsion from her school for bringing a paring knife in her lunchbox. Sierra is completely torn up about this as she's been the perfect student, and a good person all-around and is being heavily punished for an accident that she immediately tried to rectify. The small mistake of grabbing her mother's lunchbox rather than her own has quickly unravelled her life. She is stuck with an in-school suspension, the media is constantly around due to the action of her lawyer father and the boy she always thought was bad turns out to be a bit different than she really perceived. Though a harrowing experience, Sierra not only learns the real difference between right and wrong, but that people aren't always what they seem to be.

This book really got to me. I immediately was able to identify with Sierra--not because of what's happening to her, but because she reminded me a lot of myself at that age. Always trying to do the right thing, be a good person and an exemplary student. Her story is very heartbreaking, and very interesting to watch develop. She's unsure of how to handle it, because she's always had a plan and her road has always been set. This accident really throws her, and everyone around her through a ringer.

My only really struggle with this novel was that Sierra didn't really feel like a seventh grader. In a lot of ways, Sierra seems very mature, but the actions she and some of those around her exhibited seemed more elementary. I kept believing she was actually in fifth grade, before reminding myself that she was in middle school. Something about her thought process just didn't fit that age group for me. Maybe it's just because the seventh graders I know are . The other characters that we were given a glimpse of didn't do much for me. I liked how involved Sierra's parents were, and how though they weren't perfect (Mr. Shephard was very often rude and ignorant), they obviously love each other and their daughter. Sierra's mom especially hit home for me. Her compassion for her daughter was much like my own mother's and it was a wonderful thing to see. I love reading books with present parents. Luke, the troubled boy that Sierra slowly befriends, and Sierra's girlfriends were very one-dimensional as well. They didn't add a whole lot of depth to the story, thus their roles were never really expanded on. I liked what I saw of them, but wish they had played a bigger part and really helped Sierra get through this tough time.

The plot moved very quickly, which quite understandable because if I got the time line correctly, Zero Tolerance took place over the course of a week and a half. It is a very short novel, too, but the power behind it was not affected by its length. I think Mills handles this pretty delicate subject well, and bring a fine point into play: What happens to those who those who break the zero tolerance policy by mistake?

This was my first book by Claudia Mills, and based on how I felt about Zero Tolerance, it won't be my last. This author made a real impression on me with this extremely relevant story. I will be sharing this will my step-sister, who is starting middle school in the fall. I hope she, and all other readers, can really take something away from this story.
I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher for my honest opinion and review.


  1. This sounds like a great read. I'll have to check this one out with my kids!

    Nicole @ Best Kids' Reads and Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  2. Thanks for the wonderfully thoughtful review, Emily! I have to confess that I've been writing about younger kids lately, so maybe I have a younger-kid sensibility in my head right now, which could explain why Sierra felt younger than seventh grade. And I was probably the world's most clueless and innocent seventh grader myself! - 12, going on 8... Anyway, thanks for taking the time to analyze the book in so much depth.

  3. What are Sierra's parents' names? What town does she live in? I can't remember.


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