Shattering Glass by Gail Giles, Simon Pulse, 2003, ISBN: 978-0689858000
“Simon Glass was easy to hate…I guess, really we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn’t realize it until the day we killed him.” So begins Shattering Glass by Gail Giles, a story of four friends -Thaddeus or “Young”, Bob, Coop, and newcomer Rob -who seek to transform fat and clumsy Simon Glass into the most popular boy on campus. Leading this transformation is Rob, a charismatic teen who has his own reasons for changing Glass from the most unpopular to “Class Favorite”. Rob’s friends follow along with his plans, but have misgivings, especially as they learn secrets about Rob’s life before he transferred to their school. As Simon becomes more and more popular, he demonstrates that he can take on Rob in ways the other boys in the clique cannot. Young, Bob, and Coop become increasingly desperate as Rob and Simon compete for power, not only in their clique, but in the larger school campus. Eventually, they confront each other in a tragic, and surprising, moment of truth.
Shattering Glass is a suspenseful and disturbing novel about how charismatic figures can manipulate people to tragic results. This is a remembered story, with Young, the narrator, opening with Simon’s death and then moving backwards to tell the story from the beginning. As the story unfolds, the reader is also offered brief testimonials from witnesses who provide clues to the actual crime. As a result, the mystery develops and becomes more and more suspenseful the closer the reader gets to the ending. Even though the novel begins by announcing the victim and the criminals, there is a surprising twist that makes the ending feel satisfying.
While the novel is a murder mystery, it is also a story of how teens allow others to mold them into people they may not want to be. Take away the murder, and the novel feels more like a Pygmalion story in which a nerdy boy is transformed into the most popular kid on campus. While Rob is clearly a manipulative leader, Simon is not as much of a victim as he appears to be at first. As the Rob and Simon struggle for power, Young struggles to find his own path that stays true to who he is and who he wants to be.
This is a plot driven novel and as a result, some of the characters are not as developed as they could be, especially Bob, Coop, and Young’s girlfriend Ronna. While these secondary characters are important to the story, we don’t come to see them as clearly as we do Young, Ben, and Simon.
Simon Glass was the most popular kid on campus until Rob and his friends decide to make him over in an effort to show the school how phony and superficial they are. Everything is going according to plan until Simon reveals that he has a plan of his own. The result is a tragedy that no one could have anticipated.
Information about the author
From the authors’ biography on Amazon.com, we learn that “Gail Giles is the author of five young adult novels. Her debut novel, Shattering Glass, was an ALA Best of the Best Book, a Book Sense 76 selection, and a Booklist Top 10 Mystery for Youth selection.”
Young Adult Fiction
How is Ben able to manipulate others to do what he wants them to do?
Could a transformation like Simon’s happen at a school like yours?
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
One violent scene, which is not described in detail.
Why did I include this title?
This is a short novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy mysteries and suspense. I love the structure of the novel, which provides clues about the actual crime. Even though I knew the outcome of the story, I was surprised by the ending and what happens to each of the surviving characters.