Bucking the Sarge


Christopher Paul Curtis

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Minimum grade level: 


Luther T. Farrell has big plans to get out of Flint, Michigan and away from "The Sarge," his slum landlord mother. He thinks that three-peating the school science fair will land him a scholarship and he'll become America's best-known, best-loved, and best-paid philosopher. 'Cause, to quote Luther, "that's a job that there's gotta be a big demand for 'cause how many full-time, famous, professional American philosophers can you think of?" "I rest my case." But first, Luther has to take care of the "The Crew" of five men at the Happy Neighbor Group Home, where he's been the resident staff since he was 13. Then he's got to come up with a science project good enough to beat his archrival (and the love of his life), Shayla Patrick. And finally, he's got to keep The Sarge paying into his college fund until he's ready to go. Little does he know that he's come up with a science project SO good it'll change his life forever!

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Why does Luther want to get out of Flint?
  2. Who is The Sarge and how did she become who she is?
  3. Would you like to have a mother like The Sarge? Why or why not?
  4. Luther juggles a lot of things in his life. What are they? Do you think it's realistic for a 15 year old?
  5. Do you think you could handle "The Crew"? How do you think Luther manages it? Or is this a case of artistic license by the author?
  6. What part does Sparky play in the book? Why is he an important character?
  7. Luther seems to have developed a heart and conscience, even with a mother like The Sarge. How you think that happened?
  8. What do you think of Luther's final escape plan? Will it work?
  9. Luther has had a pretty difficult life. What helps him cope with these challenges?
  10. Do you know anyone dealing with similar challenges? How do they cope? Or don't they?

If you liked this book, try

  • The Watsons go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • The Beast by Walter Dean Myers
  • Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
  • Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
  • A Corner of the Universe by Ann Martin


Try macaroni and cheese or Ramen noodles.

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.