||Oct 16, 2009
“Revenge Fires Back” is the incredible story of two rebellious brothers who have outgrown their parents' rules and discipline. The two young men decide it's time for revenge and together make up false allegations against Mom and Dad. Their plan backfires and the boys are forced into foster care - a world where their parents' decisions for their upbringing are ignored, medication is the solution for misbehavior, and kids seem to take over as authority figures. Soon, the boys realize their parents' rules and discipline were nothing compared to the physical and emotional struggles they would endure in the foster care system. Unfortunately, by the time they come to this realization it is too late. Or is it?
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JR Thompson’s latest novel, Revenge Fires Back!, tells the story of two brothers who have outgrown Mom and Dad’s rules and discipline. They decide it’s time for revenge. The two young men make false allegations against their parents and are soon forced into a world they know nothing about: where their parents’ decisions for their upbringing mean nothing, where kids order adults around, where medication is the only solution to improve behavior. It is the world we know as foster care.
Thompson’s inspiration for this novel came from his thirteen year old son Justin. “Justin was practically raised in foster care,” Thompson explained. “As a result, his educational needs were neglected. He was overmedicated so badly that he could not even stay awake during the day. Stability in his life was non-existent. His behavior went from bad to worse to nearly criminal. The system was turning him into a monster.”
Over the years Thompson has taken in many children who have been in the state’s custody. The heartbreak, trials, and triumphs he has shared with Justin as well as other youths led him to write Revenge Fires Back!
In one of the earlier chapters of Thompson’s latest release, Derrick and Brady Clark are removed from a foster home due to their misbehavior. Thompson said this is a common problem in foster care. He explained that foster parents are very limited as to how they can discipline the children in their care and the children know it. When a child refuses to submit to authority, oftentimes foster parents are forced to have that child removed from their home. It is not a pleasant scene. Unfortunately, Thompson’s son has been a part of this drama in real life on multiple occasions. Justin put the situation in very simple terms by saying “…the foster parents didn’t like me acting up so they would get rid of me.” Justin said he was in foster care for approximately five years before being adopted.
The thirteen year old is not just excited because his dad had Revenge Fires Back! published. He’s thrilled because the book has been dedicated to him “It feels like I earned it because of all of the things I’ve been through in my life.” He said.
Justin offers this advice to other children and teenagers who are in the state’s custody: “Don’t regret that you’re in foster care. Try to look at it in good ways. The time will come when you will go into a home that’s stable.”
To foster parents Justin recommends “Don’t give too many medicines, but use other disciplines like have the kids stand in a corner or something.” This advice is coming from a person, who at the age of eight, was taking eight pills per day to improve his behavior. Justin’s social worker was friends with a physicians assistant and she continuously asked him to add more medication when Justin’s behaviors weren’t improving and he was compliant with her requests.
When asked what advice he would give to the social workers, Justin’s answer was not so positive. “I couldn’t give them any advice. They’re too rude and don’t even care about kids.” Of course all social workers aren’t bad people. There are some social workers who are really in it to help people. Justin was simply expressing his opinion of the social workers who he had been involved with while he was in foster care.
Thompson has high expectations for his latest novel. “When people read Revenge Fires Back! I want them to walk away enlightened. In the society we live in, it seems that everyone is out for justice. When that justice turns into revenge, too often innocent bystanders get hurt.” He explained.
More importantly, Thompson added, “I want to expose the corrupt foster care system that is ruining the lives of youth in America. The system that was designed to protect children and teenagers from abuse is doing more harm than good. Foster care is teaching children to blame all of their misbehaviors on society. It is creating a future generation of pill poppers. It is teaching youth that they don’t have to accept consequences for their behavior. It’s teaching these young people that it’s okay to fail. While reading this book, I hope people will become inspired to contact lawmakers and demand reformation of the foster care system.”
Thompson has been a therapeutic foster care provider in West Virginia for several years. He is thrilled to have the opportunity to show children and teenagers in foster care that they are not alone and that the feelings they have are very normal. He hopes Revenge Fires Back! will serve as a voice for these often forgotten youth.
Revenge Fires Back!
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“Please don’t be like that man. Just trust me. We need to get out of here,” Daniel replied.
“Nope. Tell me,” Brady insisted. Brady couldn’t wait to hear Daniel’s explanation.
“Okay, I’ll tell you. I’m scared man. Something is seriously wrong with me,” Daniel spoke quietly.
“What is it? Do you have cancer?” Derrick asked. “Are you dying?”
“Shut up you idiot,” Brady insulted.
“No, I don’t have cancer. No, I’m not dying. At least, I don’t think I am,” Daniel said. “Everything is sticking to me. Look at my shirt,” he continued as he tried to pull it off over his head. The shirt was sticking to him so badly, it actually made sound effects as he pulled it from his skin.
“Man, that sucks,” Carlos said.
“It’s not just my shirt, look at my sweats,” Daniel complained.
“I noticed,” Brady laughed. “What did you do? Glue your clothes on this morning?”
Derrick couldn’t take much more of this. He knew he promised to not laugh and to pretend he didn’t know anything, but he did know. Somehow that Jolly Rancher made Daniel’s body so sticky that he couldn’t hardly move without his clothes getting tighter and tighter. Derrick turned his back so Daniel wouldn’t see the grin on his face.
“I’m scared guys. What do you think this means? Have you ever heard of anything like this before?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah man, actually I have,” Brady lied. “I was watching this movie once and this man started having everything stick to him. He had some weird disease that turned all of his blood into this weird substance kind of like tree sap. When he sweat, it wasn’t water that came out. It was sticky stuff, just like out of a tree that had been cut on or something.”
“No way. Are you serious?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah, I heard about that too,” Carlos agreed. Carlos had no idea this was a gag but he didn’t want to act like he didn’t know about this disease. “Wasn’t it called Sappyblooditis or something like that?” He asked.
“Something like that, I’m not sure,” Brady said.
“What else does the disease do?” Daniel asked, with his face turning pale.
Derrick had regained his composure. He wanted to get in on the fun. “It also made the man lose control of his bodily functions. Like, for example, his nose started running when he least expected it and that gunk got all over everything. He sometimes started slobbering while he was wide awake for no reason. They said sometimes he even had ‘accidents’ like kids who are being potty trained do.”
The look on Daniel’s face was priceless. This was too horrible. Why would it happen to him? He was too young to have Sappyblooditis or whatever it was called. “Guys, we have to tell Samantha. Maybe if we get to the doctor soon enough, they can make me better before it gets that bad,” Daniel panicked.
Carlos looked like he was getting sick too. “I can’t remember Brady. Is that disease contagious?”
“I think so,” Brady said.
“Look guys, sorry I can’t stick around but the guys are waiting on me over there,” Carlos said before running to the other side of the gym.
Derrick couldn’t control himself anymore. He started laughing so hard he literally fell in the floor and started rolling from side to side. Tears started pouring down his face. “What’s so funny?” Daniel hollered. “Do you think it’s funny that I may be dying?”
“I told you I’d pay you back, didn’t I?” Derrick said before laughing even harder.
“Pay me back? I don’t get it,” Daniel grumbled. “What did you do to pay me back? Did you somehow find a way of passing a disease to me?”
Brady started laughing too. Poor Daniel. He was absolutely horrified. He really thought he was going to mess himself in front of everyone in the gym. He was scared to death of what might happen to him next. What he could not understand is why both Brady and Derrick seemed to think the situation was so funny. If it was contagious like they told Carlos it was, they should be scared too. After all, they had been living in the same house with him for the last twenty-four hours.
“Do you really want to know what’s so funny?” Brady asked.
“Yes. Humor me,” Daniel agreed. “I need a good laugh about now.”
“Well, we messed with the shower head this morning. We put a Jolly Rancher in it and when you took a shower, the water melted it and got all that stickiness running all over you,” Brady said.
“No way. You mean, I don’t really have Sappyblooditis?” Daniel asked.
“Nope. Just a case of a good payback,” Derrick said.
Review 123: Revenge Fires Back!
I have to admit I was immediately and personally drawn to JR Thompson’s book because it is about children in the foster care system. I’m actually starting classes in January to become a licensed adoptive parent. The first nine weeks of classes are devoted to fostering. There are passages from JR’s book that read like they were straight from the number of forms and documents I’ve already had to read over and sign, from rules against “corporal punishment” to helping the children with their “Life Books.”
Revenge Fires Back! begins with a camping trip with the Clark family, parents Roxanne and Trevor, and their two sons Brady and Derrick. Brady’s friend Dalton is also camping with the family. There’s a terrible storm brewing outside and the tent is leaking. In the morning, the boys tease one another about their sleeping bags being wet and also tease Mom about drooling in her sleep. A large tree branch has also fallen on their van. The teasing and crankiness from a lack of sleep lead to Roxanne disappearing into the woods to take a walk and the boys getting extremely dirty from a bit of rough housing.
At first, I was a bit disturbed by the numerous unfortunate mishaps that begin to take place. Brady ends up in just his boxers after his pajama bottoms get stolen; the rest of his clothes are in the van and he can’t get to them. Mom screams in the woods but instead of immediately going to help her, the boys sit down and eat cookies and brownies for breakfast. Dalton ends up with a bloody lip after Derrick takes revenge on the two older boys for throwing him in the lake.
Tempers run high as the boys refuse to be disciplined by their father and have to go into the woods to look for Mom. A search party is soon summoned to look for Mom which discovers Mom’s scream was a joke and she had just laid down for a nap away from everyone else. Unfortunately, the bruised and bloodied appearance of the boys also raises eyebrows. When Mom returns to camp, arguments between the parents and children break out again, which results in everyone taking our their frustrations on the van by beating it up and breaking out the windows despite it being their only way home.
Dalton’s Mom comes to pick him up and is disturbed by what she sees at the campsite. She threatens to call Child Protective Services. A physical altercation ensues between Derrick and his parents and an officer soon shows up at camp after finding the brothers wandering in the woods – dirty, bruised and bloodied, with Brady still in his underwear. So, Brady and Derrick are taken away for questioning and decide to take revenge on their parents by lying about what really happened at camp and about how their parents actually treat them.
By now, you are probably thinking this is all a bit extreme, and perhaps it is. My eyes were definitely growing wide from what I was reading, and I couldn’t believe the direction the story was going, but I think that was Mr. Thompson’s intention. I almost wanted to sympathize with the parents, but had to stop and think about their lack of disciplining the children at camp and overall odd behavior despite the conditions they were faced with thanks to the storm. I also had to think about how I would have handled such a situation, and it definitely would have been much differently.
The lies don’t work in the children’s favor though. They are taken to a foster home to stay with an elderly lady who is already keeping another young teen. A prank war breaks out between the teen and the brothers, and the Clark children soon get a lesson in rebellion. They are removed from the home and placed temporarily in a children’s home where they are given a shot to make them sleep when they don’t follow directions. Then, they end up getting moved to another foster home which immediately seems a bit more understanding. The boys are enrolled in school, given special gifts, and are properly disciplined. But they learned from their first foster home that if they don’t behave, there’s not much the adults can do about it. No spanking. No being shut up in your room. So, the boys continue to act out and the result is that Brady is soon diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication.
The lines between good and bad behavior are thin, and often crossed when the two brothers are given a chance to visit with their parents. The visit doesn’t go well when Trevor, the father, gets mad at the social worker. Weekly phone conversations with their parents also seem to upset both the children and parents causing only more confusion and anger. The book’s ending is a predictable climax to the children finally admitting the truth and that they lied, and then having to face the courts where a judge will determine if they can finally be reunited with their parents.
Despite the beginning and the ending, I didn’t think this book was too bad. Like I said, I think the odd start was intentional in order to build a firm reason why the kids would be taken away from their parents so quickly. The bouncing around from one home to another can be pretty typical for foster kids from what I know, so I think Mr. Thompson presented that part of the story quite fairly. However, the story is biased against the foster system and makes it seem very bad despite the story being told from the point of view of children who would obviously be against foster care to begin with. Mr. Thompson made this very clear in his query for a review of the book:
Our society looks down on children in foster care. Many schools discriminate against those who are in the system. Their discrimination does not go unfounded. It comes from experience. When a child enters foster care, the life he has known ends. He is taken away from not only his biological family, but from his neighbors, friends, toys, pets, from everything. That in itself would be hard on anyone, but it doesn’t stop there. On a weekly basis he is questioned by therapists and case managers about his biological family and about how he’s being treated in his new foster home. Therapists, in an effort to try to get the kids to talk about their feelings, sometimes put ideas into their heads that weren’t even there to begin with. For example, one might say “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. I can probably imagine how you feel. If it was me, I would probably be pretty angry. I might even hate the whole world. Is that how you feel?” Even though their intentions may be good, it often pulls these children down and lowers their self esteem and the way they see the world around them. As soon as the social workers can get it scheduled, they usually take these children for psychological testing and 95% of the time those tests return results that indicate the child has ADD or ADHD and the child is put on medication for it. In their new foster home, sometimes there are other foster children in the home who may be abusive. Sometimes these other children might steal or destroy the few belongings the new foster child has. A few months pass by and the child has finally gotten attached to his new life and it’s either time to move back with his biological family or something happens and he is placed in a new foster home. And we wonder “what is wrong these kids?” The problem is not with the kids. The problem is with the way the foster care system is being run.
That being said, I also had a problem with Mr. Clark’s religous thoughts spoken to Brady after amends are made on the very last page:
“I’m going to show you what grace is all about. It was God’s grace that allowed him to send Jesus here to take away our sins. It is the same word grace that is going to allow you to escape this punishment. You deserve a very hard butt busting just like we all deserve to go to Hell. You’re not going to be punished though because I am giving you a gift of grace and am not going to make you pay any further for you sin. Understand?”
This comes from the same man who showed anger toward a social worker when given the chance to visit with his children, displayed extreme anger given the situation that happened in the beginning at the campground, busted out a van window to distress, and who was unable to control his two sons despite this passage that comes later in the book when the foster dad is allowing the boys to talk to Mr. Clark on the phone and Derrick does not want to:
Trevor did not like this situation at all. At home, he would have never tolerated such disrespect from a little boy. He found it absurd that any adult would not make a child do something. He had been raised that adults were supposed to tell kids what to do, not just allow children to do as they pleased.
So, the religious agenda we’re left with on the last page just does not work, especially since it comes from such an angry and feeble character who has not shown any “Christian” traits throughout the rest of the book. This adds to the lack of focus for the book: Are we for or against foster care? And whose side are we on? The parents or the kids? Also, the majority of the book is dialogue and reads like a play. The few inner thoughts are not enough to make a connection with any character, and we are never given a view point from the parents while they are separated from their children. The book also suffers from a few too many grammatical and spelling problems and is also not formatted properly.
All of these negative things being said, Mr. Thompson does have a nice foundation for what “could be” a nice play for the stage or a more solid book if the inner emotion of each character is drawn out and given much more depth. For now, in my opinion, the book lacks direction and suffers from too many hidden agendas.
(reviewed by Shannon Yarbrough of LLBR)
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