Review: Playground (Jackson)

AUTHOR: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Razorbill
PUBLICATION DATE: January 1, 2012 (originally published 11-1-11)
ISBN: 9781595144348
PAGES: 272
SOURCE: public library
GENRE: realistic; urban

SUMMARY: Thirteen-year old “Butterball” is overweight, unpopular, and poor. His parents’ recent divorce sent him to a new school last year, and since he no longer has any friends, Butterball has eaten many lunch periods alone in the boys’ bathroom stall. Butterball does not get along with his overworked mom, and he misses his dad terribly. When Butterball beats up a classmate with a sock full of batteries, things seem to improve a little, causing Butterball to wonder if life as a bully is the answer.

READALIKES: Tyrell (Booth); Myracle’s Boys (Woodson); Camo Girl (Magoon)


  • Overall: 5/5
  • Creativity: 4/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Engrossing: 5/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Appeal to teens: 5/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5


  • Language: moderate; several asses, damns, mofos, a few sh**
  • Sexuality: mild; homosexuality
  • Violence: moderate; two fights involving a sock full of D batteries
  • Drugs/Alcohol: moderate; teen boys get drunk (not the narrator)

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don’t have it, but I added two copies to my next order. I will have no problem moving this book in my library and recommending it highly to boys, especially my resistant readers. A must for middle school libraries. UPDATE: 6 months later, Playground is one of the most requested books in my library. We now have 7 copies, and all are checked out/on-hold. Our 8th grade English team is considering reading it with book groups next year.

WARNING: The reviews on this site are intended for librarians who need thorough book reviews in order to make informed purchasing decisions. As such, anything below this warning may contain mild spoilers. I try not to give away too much, but I do review the entire book.

WHAT I LIKED: Who knew I would love this book? Having never heard of it, I decided to give it a whirl mainly because of the colorful front cover and who the author is. Narrator “Butterball” is likeable, even though he is angry, violent, and oh-so-far from the perfect kid. His voice is genuine, and many teen readers will see themselves in him. Push all that anger and “fronting” aside, and he is a scared, insecure 13-year old kid whose life is spinning out of control despite his efforts to look cool and fit in with the kids at his new school.

Butterball’s parents are clearly drawn and realistic; it’s refreshing to see realistically flawed parents who are so central to the story, so important in Butterball’s life. I love that Butterball initially idolizes his dad (despite his incredibly hurtful comments to his own son), but Butterball slowly recognizes his father’s shortcomings. Butterball’s embarrassment concerning his mother’s homosexuality is totally realistic; half the book goes by before he will even admit the truth to himself.

The writing style is uncomplicated, and the action keeps the plot moving at a nice speed. For me, it was a page-turner; I really cared about Butterball and wanted to see how things would turn out for him. I read the whole book in one sitting.

Small illustrations scattered throughout do little to enhance the story, but they help break up the text a bit, making Playgroung a fantastic choice for reluctant readers. I showed the illustration of Butterball eating in the school restroom all alone to my seven-year old son, and we had a nice conversation about why the boy was eating lunch in the bathroom. Interesting that, though I didn’t tell him so, my son knew he was in there because of bullies.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: It’s rare that I have no criticisms, but truly, I loved the whole book. Middle school teachers and librarians, this one is a keeper!

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