Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux (BYR) on June 18th 2013
Buy on Amazon
Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she sees that she accidentally brought her mother's lunch bag to school, including a paring knife, she immediately turns in the knife at the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school's ironclad no weapons policy. While there, Sierra spends time with Luke, a boy who's known as a troublemaker, and discovers that he's not the person she assumed he would be--and that the lines between good and bad aren't as clear as she once thought. Claudia Mills brings another compelling school story to life with Zero Tolerance.
I found the premise of Zero Tolerance to be intriguing and sure enough, this book kept me up all night reading. Sierra is a girl that gets good grades, does extra curricula and always does the right thing. Unfortunately for her, the school has a zero tolerance policy. So even though she had taken her mother's lunch to school by mistake and even though she turned it in right away, the punishment for having a knife at school is expulsion.
Personally, I don't think zero tolerance is a good policy when it involves well-meaning students to be expelled for no reason. I love the way Mills approaches the subject and although Sierra's father is a lawyer and working to make sure this doesn't take place, there's an air of uncertainty throughout the book. Sierra understands rules being upheld and realizes that even though she is innocent she may be expelled anyway.
Sierra is a strong character, but one who has a bit of a sheltered life with everything going her way. When she is forced to spend a whole week in in-school suspension, she finds that good people aren't just ones that do the right thing. Luke is a boy who is constantly getting in trouble and during her time in suspension, Sierra finds there is more to the boy than at first glance. In fact, he might be more interesting than even her current crush Colin.
Sierra has three good friends, all of which react differently to the situation. As with any group of friends, there are some that are more selfish than others. What Sierra finds out is that maybe she is the one being selfish with all the attention and petitions she is receiving from the school and news. I felt like she had moments of strength where she showed that she did care about others and that come what may she would make the best of the situation.
Even her father brings out the best in her, as she discovers he really is willing to go to any means to keep his daughter from getting expelled. Even willing to blackmail her principal if necessary. I think that young readers will find their voice in this book, showing that sometimes adults are not perfect and things can go wrong for a simple, innocent mistake. There's a lot to talk about in this book and would be a fantastic story to share with middle grade students who may have similar policies in place.
Final Verdict: I honestly read this book straight through in one sitting. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen to Sierra and enthralled by all the realizations this book contained for a teenage girl. Definitely check this one out, especially if you have middle grade students or work with those students.