Published: 22 August 2017
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary
Matt Nolan is the high school drug dealer, deadbeat, and soon-to-be dropout according to everyone at his school. His vice principal is counting down the days until Mr. 60% (aka Matt) finally flunks out and is no longer his problem. What no one knows is the only reason Matt sells drugs is to take care of his uncle Jack, who is dying of cancer.
Meet Amanda. The overly cheerful social outcast whose optimism makes Matt want to hurl. Stuck as partners during an after-school club (mandatory for Matt), it’s only a matter of time until Amanda discovers Matt’s secret. But Amanda is used to dealing with heartbreak, and she’s determined to help Matt find a way to give life 100 percent.
Rating: 2 Stars
Mr. 60% has an entertaining enough premise, something I’d expect to see as the basis of a Lifetime movie special perhaps, but it also has the substance of that sort of movie. That is to say, while you may enjoy the movie or, in this case the book, while consuming it, there isn’t enough meat to it to stick with you for long after you’ve closed the cover.
The main character Matt is dealing drugs in his high school to pay for his uncle’s pain management medication due to cancer. Told from his perspective, the seriousness of his responsibilities is felt intensely as he delves deeper into his commitment to his drug supplier in order to not only secure his uncle Jack’s morphine, but the money to keep a roof over their heads.
The supporting cast for this book is slight, comprising of Uncle Jack, fellow student Amanda, a smattering of Matt’s nameless customers, Vice Principal Gill (out to expel Matt), Officer Hershey (school assigned police officer), & Mr. Marsh (the guidance counselor). Amanda becomes something of a presence in Matt’s life due to a school commitment and, through him, a friend of Jack’s. Her assistance proves helpful if ultimately futile to Matt’s high school career, but her friendship was the important thing. Having support after a devastating loss is one of the few things that I think saves Matt from withering away.
Vice Principal Gill was a complex character. The reader was supposed to hate this “bad guy” who was working hard to expel Matt, but I couldn’t blame him. He was a vice principal that was fighting to deal with a drug problem in his school. Matt being the main character doesn’t negate the fact that his actions were illegal and morally dubious. Even his inevitable loss of business isn’t a solution to Gill’s problem because apparently a transfer student swoops in and fills the hole. That school is trouble and I’d have been interested in hearing what happened to the vice principal’s efforts to clean it up.
I was shocked that Officer Hersey gave a known drug supplier so many chances and I have to wonder if it was because Matt was white. He got a lot of leeway from the school, what with Officer Hershey and Mr. Marsh giving him warnings about pat downs and busts, for one, not to mention the ease of his border crossings between the U.S. and Canada. Everything in relation to the drug business was skewed in his privileged favor. He even gets out of the business with no repercussions from Big Ed, the supplier. There were no real consequences for him outside of school; this baffled me when I thought back on it.
The emotional output from this book, coming from the relationship between Matt and Jack, was the best part of the novel. While their lives aren’t the easiest, what with Matt’s childhood alluded to as rough (his mother is jailed for an unrevealed crime) and Jack’s vagabond existence until Matt needed him, there was real family bonding there.
There are details lacking and the story doesn’t leave a lasting impression, but the time it takes to consume the book isn’t a lot and if you’ve got time to kill, I wouldn’t give this book a hard pass, though I would say borrow it if at all possible.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.