Book Review of Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Book Review of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea - What My Kids Read

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Because of Mr. Terupt is Rob Buyea’s first novel. I found it on Amazon as one of their recent top sellers. It was published in 2010, so it’s been out a little while, but I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it on Amazon. Because of Mr. Terupt is the story of how a fifth grade teacher impacts the lives of seven kids in his class. The book is narrated from the seven children’s perspectives, so each “chapter” is from a different perspective. It was a pretty quick and easy read.. It is a great illustration of forgiveness and redemption. There is a sequel, Mr. Terupt Falls Again, that was released last year, and I plan to review that book soon.

Parents should know that most of the characters have dark troubles – like a father leaving the family for another woman or parents having a child in order to have a bone marrow donor for their first child. You should probably read my plot summary because the seven children in the story all have different issues. There is a fair amount of bullying, but it is presented as bad. One major character ends up in a coma in the hospital, and that is scary. A conservative Christian family is close-minded, but changes by the end. Parents should also note that this is a modern book, and the children talk like modern kids in school with words like stupid, sucks, etc.

The message of this book is that everyone has troubles and secrets, and we should act with courage and compassion towards each other.

My Mom-Meter gives Because of Mr. Terupt an overall safety rating of 2 (Moderately Safe) for ages 10 and up.

Click here to skip to Liam’s review of this book

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Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsSafe - no actual four-letter words

BullyingCaution

Disrespectful AttitudesModerately Safe

GamblingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Gross BehaviorModerately Safe

LanguageModerately Safe

Magic/SupernaturalSafe - no actual four-letter words

Romance/SexModerately Safe

Scary ThemesCaution

ViolenceSafe - no actual four-letter words

 

Plot summary of Because of Mr. Terupt: ***Contains Spoilers***

It’s the beginning of fifth grade, and seven children’s lives are about to be changed by the new teacher, Mr. Terupt. This book is broken up into the months of the school year, and each of the seven kids has at least a “chapter” per month, telling their part of the story as it happens.

Peter is the trouble maker slash class clown. He is always trying to beat the system by using the bathroom pass to spend as much time out of class as possible, or coming up with inappropriate words during a vocabulary challenge. Mr. Terupt uses humor to get Peter’s respect and cooperation. Peter’s pranks lead to everyone getting fed up and ganging up on him in a snow fight. He lashes out, and, in a freak accident, throws the icy snowball that puts Mr. Terupt into a coma. Peter is consumed with guilt, but is a great picture of redemption in the end when Mr. Terupt returns to school and tells Peter that he forgives him.

Jessica is the new girl who just moved from California. You slowly learn that her dad (who writes plays) just left Jessica and her mother for another woman. He has not contacted Jessica since they left. She loves to read and talks about different books throughout the story. She wants to move back to California for a long time, but Mr. Terupt helps her find friends and a place at her new school. She feels responsible for Mr. Terupt’s coma because she instigated the snow fight attack on Peter.

Luke is a smart, hard-working student that always has the answer. Mr. Terupt lets him try a plant food experiment that fails (and sets off the smoke alarms), and slowly Luke realizes he is not the only smart kid. Luke feels guilty about Mr. Terupt being in a coma because Luke had added onto the girls who first ganged up on Peter.

Alexia lies a lot and is a bully. She starts “girl wars,” and regularly insults the other kids. She calls Danielle all kinds of fat names, and manipulates each girl in the class into think that Alexia is her only friend. You learn that Alexia’s mom and dad fought a lot when she was small, and finally her father left. Alexia’s mother told her to never let anyone push her around the way her father had pushed her mother around. Mr. Terupt confronts her about being a bully, and it hurts her feelings, but eventually, Alexia realizes that he was right. She changes her ways because of Mr. Terupt.

Jeffrey hates school. He acts like he doesn’t care about anything. You learn that he had an older brother who had Down Syndrome and leukemia, and that Jeffrey’s parents had Jeffrey to use his stem cells to save his brother. It didn’t work, and Jeffrey’s brother died. His parents are depressed, and his mother wear pajamas all day and doesn’t leave the house. Jessica tells Jeffrey that it wasn’t his fault. No one had ever said that to him, and it brings freedom. After Mr. Terupt’s accident, Jeffrey realizes he may not have time to tell his parents how he feels. He tells his parents that his brother’s death wasn’t their fault, and he begins to reach out to his parents. There are hints by the end of the book that his parents are beginning to heal.

Danielle is a big girl, called fat by bullies. She lives on a farm with her parents, older brother, and grandmother. Her family is very religious (Christian) and conservative. They tell her to have nothing to do with Anna, because of Anna’s mother. Danielle’s grandmother is especially opposed to Danielle having anything to do with Anna. Danielle and her Grandmother pray together often. Danielle wants to have friends at school, but she is always manipulated by Alexia, who alternates between being her only “friend” and being a bully that says many mean things about Danielle’s weight. Danielle becomes friends with Jessica and Anna, and learns that Anna and her mother are really nice people. Danielle has to learn to stand up to Alexia’s manipulation and to overlook her family’s narrow view of good. In the end, Mr. Terupt’s accident causes Danielle to push her mother and brother reach out to Anna’s mother, and to stretch their beliefs of what is a “good” Christian.

Anna is a quiet girl, who tries to keep out of trouble. She keeps to herself at school. Anna’s closest friend is her mother who had her when she was 16, and was ostracized by most people in their town, including her parents. Anna doesn’t know who her father is. She is very observant, and is always aware of whether an adult is wearing a wedding ring or not. Anna becomes good friends with Jessica and Danielle, and learns to stand up to Alexia. She feels like Mr. Terupt’s accident was her fault because she participated in the snow fight. She finally asks her mother if she blames Anna for all the pain that she has gone through as an outcast, young single mom. Her mother reassured Anna that she was the best thing to happen to her. By the end of the book, Anna’s mother is friends with Jessica’s mother, and it looks like she will be friends with Danielle’s mother. Anna becomes good friends with Jessica, Danielle, and Alexia.

Mr. Terupt is a teacher that jokes with his class, and engages them on their level. He comes up with fun projects, but also expects them to learn to behave responsibly. He has a fun vocabulary building game where each letter of the alphabet is assigned a monetary amount (under a dollar). The kids have to find words whose letters add up to exactly one dollar. Some kids take advantage to list bad words, but most get into the spirit of the challenge and learn big words. Another time, Mr. Terupt comes up with a challenge to count all of the grass on the football field, teaching them how to accurately estimate the way the census is taken. He has a series of plant experiments, and a multicultural group challenge. One of the most impactful assignments of the school year is when he assigns a book to be read (Summer of the Swans), and then divides the class into groups to spend time with the special needs class. Every student learns from the special needs kids, and it softens the kids that are rough around the edges. Mr. Terupt challenged several kids to stop ignoring bullying in the classroom, and he confronts Alexia’s bullying. After the class has earned a “free day” due to good behavior, they decide to spend it in a variety of ways. They end up outside in the snow at the end of the day, and all of the kids gang up on Peter (the troublemaker), shoving him into the snow and kicking snow into his face. Peter gets mad and throws a snowball that has iced over. The snowball hits Mr.Terupt, who happened to have had multiple concussions as a wrestler in college, and he ends up in a coma. He has brain surgery, and it takes three months before he recovers. In those three months, the kids grow and apply things they had learned about their character because of Mr. Terupt. Each student works through their own guilt about Mr. Terupt’s accident, and they also grow in their personal stories. Mr. Terupt shows up for the last day of school, and singles out Peter to make sure Peter knows that he is forgiven. The principal tells them class that they are making a special exception and allowing Mr. Terupt to teach them the following year in 6th grade.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in Because of Mr. Terupt:

  • Alexia says “It’s always easier for me to lie when I don’t have to look at the person’s eyes.” Why do you think Alexia feels like she needs to lie? Do you ever feel like lying would help you make friends?
  • Danielle deals a lot with Alexia bullying her about her weight. Danielle’s mom tells her that “It’s making you a better person and someday this experience will help you.” Do you agree with Danielle’s mom?
  • Danielle’s family believes that Anna and her mom are not “the type of people church-goers should associate with.” You might want to talk with your child about what your family believes about “the type of people” your family should associate with. If you are Christians, you might want to talk about who Jesus associated with, and how we can emulate Him today.
  • When talking about her parents’ divorce, Jessica says, “What I didn’t know at the time was that my dad wasn’t only dumping my mom, he was dumping me, too. The last time I talked to him was back in the beginning of the school year. He phoned to talk to me, but he hasn’t called since.” You might want to talk with your kids about divorce, how it can look in different families.
  • The children interact with a boy with Down Syndrome and an autistic boy. You might want to talk with your kids about special needs and what that means, if they have not had the opportunity to interact with people who have various handicaps.
  • Mr. Terupt says “I’ve watch Alexia be unpleasant to all of you. I hoped that one of you was going to stand up to her and tell her to stop. You didn’t…If you let people get away with being mean, they’re going to keep being mean… You should stand by each other. That’s what being friends is all about.” Do you think that Mr. Terupt was right? How do you handle bullies?
  • Mr. Terupt tells Alexia “You’re acting like the meanest girl I’ve ever seen… I know you’re not mean deep down inside.” Is Mr. Terupt right? Is Alexia mean deep down inside?
  • Alexia says “Nobody was going to be my friend. I know, because that’s how it was before. Kids made fun of me, because of my clothes, because of how I talked. Leopard Lexie and Lexie Like, they called me. And then one day in third grade I attacked back. I yelled at some girl like Mom and Dad yelled at each other. And after that, no one wanted to be friends with her. It didn’t matter that what I said was a lie. They ditched her and became my friends instead. Just like that, I became the leader. All of a sudden I was getting all kinds of attention, unlike at home. Mom was around, but usually too upset over Dad (’cause he was never around) to worry about me. And the last year, she, like, hit her limit, and threw Dad out of the house. Mom told me then, ‘Alexia, don’t let people push you around like your father did to us. You take charge and fight back.’ So there’s no way I’m going back to being nice. Nobody’s gonna make fun of me again.” Later, Anna learns about Alexia’s home life, and Anna’s mother tells her, “Everybody’s got a story, Anna.” You might want to talk with you child about how bullies are usually people who have been bullied. Everyone has a story.
  • Jeffrey’s older brother, Michael, “had Down Syndrome and leukemia, and was real sick, so my parents had me in order to save him… They gave Michael my stem cells… hoping they would become what Michael needed. It worked for a while, but then he got sick again. He was in and out of the hospital a lot… Then the summer before fourth grade I gave my bone marrow to Michael. It was his last chance. Everything else had failed… It worked, but not fast enough. Michael got sick before his body could fight the cancer off… I didn’t save him” “Then Jessica said somethin’ no one had ever said to me before. ‘It’s not your fault, Jeffrey.'” Jeffrey believes that his parents blame him for his brother’s death. “They sure don’t love me. Why else are they so silent?” Later, after Mr. Terupt’s accident, Jeffrey says “Terupt taught me to see things different… To think about more than just me… But now I started to think about Mom’s silence, And Dad’s silence. Mom’s fault. And Dad’s fault. They were hurting, too. why did I have to wait for them to talk to me? I didn’t.” This is a pretty heavy topic: kids getting sick and dying, siblings being born for stem cells, parents’ depression after the death of a child, etc. You will probably want to talk through this story with your kids. It could be scary.
  • Anna says “since I was the ‘mistake,’ I felt like it was my fault. I wanted to help her find a friend, and a husband.” She asks her mom “Do you ever blame me for what happened to you all those years ago… Is it my fault that you were ostracized?” Anna’s mother tells her “Anna, I consider myself lucky to have you. I would endure all the pain again in an instant so that I could have you. I’ve never blamed you, nor will I. You’re everything to me…I’ve always been afraid that you’d end up hating me for bringing you into this situation.” Was Anna a “mistake?” Was it her fault that her mom didn’t have friends? You might want to take some time to talk about any moral implications your family has with premarital sex, etc.
  • Jessica’s mom tells her “I hope that you know what happened between your father and me is not at all your fault, either.” Do you think that Jessica’s parents’ divorce was Jessica’s fault? Sometimes when people we love are hurting, we feel like it’s our fault. Is there anything that’s happened lately that you feel is your fault?

Alcohol/Drugs: None

Bullying:

  • When Peter describes the things you can do once you sneak into the bathroom, he says “If someone’s in the stall, it’s really funny to swing and kick his door in, especially if he’s a younger kid. If you scare him bad enough, he might pee on himself a little… Or if your buddy’s using the urinal, you can push him from behind and flush it at the same time… some kids like to plug the toilets with big wads of toilet paper, but I don’t suggest you try that.”
  • Alexia thinks Jessica is a loser because she reads books.
  • Alexia points out Danielle as “the fat one” and tells Jessica that she shouldn’t be friends with Danielle because Danielle calls Jessica “Miss Goody Two-Shoes and a snotty book-worm.” (Alexia is lying to start a “girl war.”)
  • Alexia often talks about how fat Danielle is. Danielle says “Lexie had done this stuff to me before. One day she’s my friend, the next she’s not. I don’t even know why… one day after recess, Lexie started ignoring me. Pretending I wasn’t even there. She would talk about things right in front of me and leave me out of the conversation. She started telling stupid fat jokes… I cried at home a lot.” Later, Danielle tells Jessica “Lexie’s ignoring me – talking about me, saying mean stuff. She doesn’t sit with me at lunch. She’s not playing with me. And now all the other girls are doing the same thing.”
  • Alexia tells Danielle “You’re crazy to be friends with the new girl. I told you she’s been saying nasty stuff about you. How you smell like the farm. And now she just said, ‘Who’s bigger, Danielle or the cows?'” (Alexia is lying.)
  • Alexia says that Anna belongs in the special needs class because “She’s, like, so stupid.”
  • Alexia tells Danielle that a boy likes cows,”Maybe he should date a cow like you, then.”
  • During their Ramadan project, Alexia says that Anna is “too stupid,” and that Danielle should be in charge of food “Like, she’s so fat, she must be good with food.” No one does anything to stop Alexia from bullying. Jessica says “It was as if we thought pretending nothing had happened would make everything better. It didn’t.”
  • Mr. Terupt says “I’ve watch Alexia be unpleasant to all of you. I hoped that one of you was going to stand up to her and tell her to stop. You didn’t…If you let people get away with being mean, they’re going to keep being mean… You should stand by each other. That’s what being friends is all about.”
  • Alexia says “Nobody was going to be my friend. I know, because that’s how it was before. Kids made fun of me, because of my clothes, because of how I talked. Leopard Lexie and Lexie Like, they called me. And then one day in third grade I attacked back. I yelled at some girl like Mom and Dad yelled at each other. And after that, no one wanted to be friends with her. It didn’t matter that what I said was a lie. They ditched her and became my friends instead. Just like that, I became the leader. All of a sudden I was getting all kinds of attention, unlike at home. Mom was around, but usually too upset over Dad (’cause he was never around) to worry about me. And the last year, she, like, hit her limit, and threw Dad out of the house. Mom told me then, ‘Alexia, don’t let people push you around like your father did to us. You take charge and fight back.’ So there’s no way I’m going back to being nice. Nobody’s gonna make fun of me again.”
  • Everyone gangs up on Peter during their time in the snow, knocking him into the snow, kicking snow into his face, shoving his face in the snow, and holding him down in the snow.

Disrespectful Attitudes:

  • Peter says “New teachers don’t know the rules, so you can get away with things the old-timers would squash you for.”
  • Alexia says she hates Mr. Terupt.

Gambling: None

Gross Behavior:

  • “Old fart” is used to describe other teachers.
  •  “Pee” is used several times.
  • Mr. Terupt says “Boy, Peter, I’m gonna have to call you Mr. Peebody, or better yet, Peter the Pee-er. You do more peein’ than a dog walking by a mile of fire hydrants… My grandpa used to tell me to tie a knot in it.”
  • The first two”Dollar Words” the  kids come up with are “buttheads” and “buttocks.”
  • Peter throws a piece of cardboard like a Frisbee, and it hits Alexia on her bottom. She yells “Ow! My tushie!” and lots of kids laugh. It is referenced several times (once as her “fanny”).
  • A boy with Down Syndrome is described as having “boogers all over his face.”
  • Peter had made a puddle of water by the water fountain, and the principal slipped on it and falls backwards. Luke says “That was when I saw my principal’s underwear. I couldn’t believe it. I knew I shouldn’t keep staring, but I couldn’t look away. We all gawked at her multicolored flower underwear. And that’s not the best of it – or the worst of it, if you’re Mrs. Williams. Her underwear was a bit discombobulated. In other words, she had a wedgie… It was the day I saw my principal’s underwear, and more.” (This incident is mentioned more than once.)

Language:

  • “Mean old fart” and “old farts” are used by Peter to describe other teachers.
  • The first two”Dollar Words” the  kids come up with are “buttheads” and “buttocks.”
  • “Dumb” is used several times.
  • “Stupid” is used many times.
  • A girl is called “fat” many times throughout the book.
  • “Buttocks” is used several times, twice as a “Dollar Word” conversation, and Mr. Terupt uses it twice.
  • “Butthead” and “Buttheads” are used as “Dollar Words.”
  • Jeffrey uses “sucks” and “sucked” four times.
  • “Wierdo” is used a couple of times.
  • “Moron” is used once.
  • “Tushie” is said several times.
  • “Fanny” is said once.
  • “What the heck” is said once.
  • Peter refers to the special needs class as “retards” several times before he interacts with them and learns how special they are.
  • Luke calls Peter a “jerk” for putting glue on Luke’s shoes.
  • “Holy smokes” is said once.
  • “Dork” is used twice. Jeffrey says that Luke isn’t a bad kid, “just a dork.” Jessica says Peter was standing on the top of a hill “like the king of all dorks.”
  • Danielle’s grandmother says “droolin’ geezers.”
  • Jessica calls the woman her dad had an affair with an “airheaded bimbo.” Jessica’s mom calls her a “floozy.”

Magic/Supernatural:

  • Bad luck is mentioned once. “Lucky” is used once.
  • Luke says “We were math wizards (dollar word).”
  • Peter knocks Alexia into the snow to “snap her out of her trance.”
  • Peter was so upset about Mr. Terupt’s accident, he was walking around “like a mummy.”

Potentially Offensive Behavior:

  • Jessica reads various books throughout the book. I’m not familiar with all of them. Your kids might want to read them, and I encourage you to check out reviews about them (or request a review from me) before jumping into Jessica’s favorite books.
  • Danielle’s family is “old-fashioned,” as in very conservative Christians. They pray, go to church, and do not want Danielle to associate with Anna (who was born out-of-wedlock). Danielle’s mother and brother have a change of heart at the end of the book.
  • The class has a holiday party that has stations for Christmas, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. The book follows the Ramadan group, but not much is mentioned about the holiday,

Romance/Sex:

  • Anna’s mom had her when she was sixteen. “She was ostracized once… My mom told me it was like there was a big group of people holding hands in a circle, and she was never let in… Mom doesn’t ever want that to happen to me. It was when she was sixteen and pregnant with me. I can tell that she still hurts from all of it. Even her own parents shunned her… She tried to move in with my dad (I’ve never met him), but that didn’t work out – he left. Mom says we can talk about my dad and the whole situation when I’m older.”
  • Jessica’s parents are separated. She refers often to the fact that her dad is still in California. “My dad didn’t come to Connecticut with us. He directs plays and found a girlfriend at his work. A beautiful actress from one of his productions.”
  • Anna notices when someone doesn’t have a wedding ring. She notes that Mr. Terupt had “lots of options.”
  • Peter starts singing about Mr. Terupt and another teacher: “Oooh, Terupt and Newberry sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”
  • Alexia says “Peter’s always picking on me. I bet it’s because he likes me. Like, all boys think I’m pretty. They like my fancy clothes and sparkly lip gloss. They sure don’t look at Danielle.”
  • Peter had made a puddle of water by the water fountain, and the principal slipped on it and falls backwards. Luke says “That was when I saw my principal’s underwear. I couldn’t believe it. I knew I shouldn’t keep staring, but I couldn’t look away. We all gawked at her multicolored flower underwear. And that’s not the best of it – or the worst of it, if you’re Mrs. Williams. Her underwear was a bit discombobulated. In other words, she had a wedgie… It was the day I saw my principal’s underwear, and more.”
  • Peter, Jeffrey, and Luke are trying to come up with “B” words at the beach, and Peter says “Babes.” Luke doesn’t know what “Babes” means. Mr. Terupt tells Peter “Lots of girls don’t appreciate that term. It sounds as if you don’t know how to respect them, and part of being a man is knowing how to respect women.”
  • Anna tells Danielle that Danielle’s brother, Charlie (same age as Anna’s mom) had coffee with Anna’s mom. “If Charlie marries my mom, what would that make us? Sisters?” Danielle’s family doesn’t approve of Anna’s mom, so Danielle says they will never be allowed to get married. Anna’s mom says that they “aren’t looking to get married.”
  • Jessica calls the woman her dad had an affair with an “airheaded bimbo.” Jessica’s mom calls her a “floozy.”
  • Jessica’s mom tells her “I hope that you know what happened between your father and me is not at all your fault, either.”
  • Anna tells Mr. Terupt “I think Ms. Newberry might have the hots for you, in case you’re interested.”

Scary Themes:

  • Jeffrey’s older brother, Michael, “had Down Syndrome and leukemia, and was real sick, so my parents had me in order to save him… They gave Michael my stem cells… hoping they would become what Michael needed. It worked for a while, but then he got sick again. He was in and out of the hospital a lot… Then the summer before fourth grade I gave my bone marrow to Michael. It was his last chance. Everything else had failed… It worked, but not fast enough. Michael got sick before his body could fight the cancer off… I didn’t save him” “Then Jessica said somethin’ no one had ever said to me before. ‘It’s not your fault, Jeffrey.'”
  • Mr. Terupt is hit in the head by a snowball, and ends up in a coma. He might die. All of the students feel guilty and are terribly afraid he will die.
  • Alexia mentions twice that her parents would fight. When she sees Mr. Terupt in a coma, “I cried like I used to when Mom and Dad would fight.”
  • The class waits at the hospital through Mr. Terupt’s brain surgery. At one point, a doctor comes into the waiting room and tells bad new to a woman waiting in there.

Violence:

  • Jeffrey says he should have punched Peter for calling the special needs class “retards.”
  • Everyone gangs up on Peter during their time in the snow, knocking him into the snow, kicking snow into his face, shoving his face in the snow, and holding him down in the snow.
  • Mr. Terupt is hit by an icy snowball and goes into a coma.
  • Danielle’s grandmother says that Peter “needed a lickin’ months ago.”
  • Anna’s mom tells Anna that she got mad at Danielle’s brother, Charlie, once and kicked a dent in the door to his truck.

 

From a ten-year-old’s perspective: “I enjoyed this book. It written from the view of the characters and you get an idea of their motives. It feels like it is actually happening. I like it because you really understand the characters. It is very serious, but also funny. It’s kind of a more redeeming Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I think anyone 9 and older would like this book.”

 

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