HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Five-Finger Discount
Author: Barthe DeClements
Cover Illustrator: Diana Voyas
Publisher: iUniverse, republished in 2000
ISBN-13: 978-0385297059 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 038529705X Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0595007806 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0595007805 Paperback
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9-12
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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DeClements, Barthe. Five-Finger Discount (Published in 1989 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Delacorte Press, New York City, NY 10103; republished in 1990 by Dell Books, an imprint of Dell Publishing, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., 666 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10103). Ten year old Gerald (Jerry) Johnson Jr. has just moved from his old home and school at Renton into a new house with his mom, a waitress. The next door neighbor is Grace Elliot, who he learns is in his new fifth grade class at Silver King Elementary School in Snohomish outside of Seattle, WA, and her family. Mr. Elliot is a preacher, but Jerry’s dad is in prison at Monroe for stealing cars, chopping them up, and selling the parts. Jerry doesn’t want any of the other kids to know that his dad is a prisoner, but a mean fourth grader named Edward Troller finds out and threatens to tell everyone else unless Jerry pays him blackmail.
Meanwhile, Jerry does some stealing of his own. He takes a bit of lumber stored at a nearby construction site to build his tree house and shoplifts (the “five-finger discount”) a pair of expensive white sandals as a Christmas present. What happens with Edward Troller? Will Jerry turn out like his father, or will he learn an important lesson? And is there anything that Grace the P.K. (preacher’s kid) do to help Jerry the P.K. (prisoner’s kid)? Five-Finger Discount, which was a recipient of the Pen Center USA West 1989 Literary Award, is Book 1 of 3 in the Jerry Johnson Trilogy Series. Besides a couple of common euphemisms (e.g., “darn” and “gol”), the term “God” is used a few times as an exclamation. There are also references to smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.
The story is well told and there’s nothing really “bad” about it, but to be honest I just didn’t care for the book all that much. The ending was a little bit too tenuous and vague for me. Someone might reply that life is sometimes like that, and I realize this, but I prefer stories that have a more satisfying conclusion with a greater degree of moral clarity. Of course, there are two sequels to work things out. Not to sound totally negative, I will say that some interesting issues are raised which are worthy of discussion, and that Jerry does grow in his understanding of things along the way. Another reviewer wrote, “We read this book when I was in fifth grade. Now, I am a teacher myself and use this book in my own classroom. I just love how both main characters are PKs (a prisoner’s kid and a preacher’s kid). A great realistic fiction story that students can relate to.”