Arch Montgomery's Gunpowder Trilogy
Jake takes place during one of the single most powerfully shaping times in a person’s life—secondary education. Through the metaphor of the utopian and fictitious St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, author Arch Montgomery shows us how our humanity can only be fully realized through other humans. The book depicts three deaths and one near-fatal disease while simultaneously tracking the rebirth of Jake, the titular and main character. He moves from a transparent “only-good-as-I-have-to-be” mentality to a lifestyle of excellence and three-dimensionality with the help of his school, which is personified through the characters of Mary White, rector; George Meader, teacher; and Joel Kohn, student.
Jake presents both Montgomery’s view of public school systems (which Jake, without a drop of nostalgia, refers to as “out in the county”) and his view of an ideal school, which, in this case, comes in the form of an independent school, though the tenets that make it so admirable could be applied to almost any school—public, independent, parochial, or otherwise. Mixing real-world models with an informed idealism, Montgomery creates St. Stephen’s in order to demonstrate the most positive influence a school can have on one person.
On the flipside of that coin, however, remain numerous questions about what kind of negative effects sub-par schools can have on their students. While St. Stephen’s gives its students a three-dimensional education—mind (academics), body (athletics), and spirit (chapel and community service)—do public schools scratch the surface of even just one dimension? While Mary White, the head of St. Stephen’s, plays roles as varied as disciplinarian, spiritual leader, and friend, in what light do most public school students view their own principals? While the educational events of the highest consequence happen to Jake outside the classroom, how many public school students interact with their classmates, teachers, or administration beyond a school setting?
On a continuum of education quality—satisfactory, good, great, excellent, ideal—where does St. Stephen’s fall? Where does the school you went to, or your children go to, fall? These and many other questions arise in Jake, and beg to be discussed, because once problems are recognized, they can begin to get solved.
It is a page-turner. It is a true coming-of-age
Hank Collins, an astute, gutsy, and funny 13-year-old who's
just finished the seventh grade at a public school in Baltimore's
affluent suburbs. But all is not trouble-free for Hank. He
must contend with a troubled family, an alien school, and
a world otherwise booby-trapped with alluring but perilous
Hank is the page-turning, contemporary,
coming-of-age story he tells of growing up amidst this wreckage
during a dangerous and suspenseful summer. From him, we hear
the events of his life. We stand by him on the baseball field
and at the dinner tables of his remarried parents. We walk
with him into an epic, appalling, yet believable teenage party.
We share with him an astounding encounter with adult weekend
warriors. We see not just his confusions and dismays, but
his grit, his honesty, and his vulnerability. We like him,
and root for him, and care about him.
Through a raw, real, and rewarding storyline, recounted with
an understated elegance, and dialogue that is witty and captivating,
we watch as he manages to evolve into a courageous, undaunted
As the Harvard Crimson observes, Hank
is so authentic that one sometimes feels the need to check
for that standard disclaimer reminding us that these characters
are only fictitious. Hank bursts from the pages, vibrant and
flawed. We feel his pain, share his sorrows, and rejoice in
There is no holding back here,
notes Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Buzz Bissinger. There
is no political correctness. The world that Hank sees and
tells us about -- a world fraught with pitfalls, potholes,
protagonists, antagonists, decency, and deceit -- is the world
of the American pre-adolescent.
Author Arch Montgomery never shies
away from important issues, adds the Harvard Crimson,
and never takes the easy way out in dealing with them.
With a few deft strokes, he manages to compress every in-between
shade of gray into the dialogue and actions of his characters.
Like the state of the world it reflects, good and evil are
not always so clear-cut. Part of Hank's journey of growth
entails understanding and dealing with that realization.
No wonder the Harvard Crimson concludes:
Few novels have succeeded in capturing the essence
of adolescence, but the likes of Tom Sawyer and Holden Caulfield
are about to welcome the newest member to their ranks a
13-year-old boy named Hank… Arch Montgomery, impressive
in an incandescent debut, shows a mastery of his craft and
an unusually perceptive insight into the human heart.