Below the sign welcoming the new eighth-grade class to school is one that promises to leave no child unsuccessful and a handout that offers eight ways of being smart. For Edwin Hanratty, at times as hilarious as he is miserable, this is part of what makes junior high pretty much a relentless nightmare. And so, with Flake, his only friend, he contends with clique upon clique--the jocks who pummel them, the girls who ignore or taunt them--as well as the dogged and disconcerting attentions of a sixth-grader who's even more ferociously disaffected than they are. And while Edwin's parents work hard to understand him, they face without fully realizing it a demoralization so systemic that he and Flake have no recourse other than their own bitter and smart remarks, until they gradually begin flirting with the most horrible revenge of all.
This lethal impulse, which has touched communities across America, has never been given such shocking credibility as it has in "Project X," which suggests that these boys' central predicament is not their hatred of the world but their agonized and enduring love of it. Never before has Jim Shepard's compassionate virtuosity been on such conspicuous, unsettling, and haunting display.