Blood and Guts in High School: A Novel
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2001
I disagree with a number of the previous reviewers. I think Acker uses her style effectively to drive a point home. She is rewriting the canon from a perspective of pain and oppression and her way of doing this is by attacking the very language that aids in her oppression. Janie must relearn language in her own way, hence we watch this process begin through drawings and a relaearning of the alphabet and finally a reconstruction and retelling of well known tales (e.g. The Scarlet Letter). Rather than being only dark and painful, I found the end to be somewhat uplifting by offering a glimmer of hope through the banding together of society's castoffs. It's a difficult book, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing what happens when an author attempts to rewrite a personal history and in doing so urges us all to deconstruct our own narratives.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2007
The previous reviews have said that smart people like it and dumb people don't; I don't think that's true. Someone else said that it should be thrown on the floor because it's filth. I don't think that's true either.

I think that Acker had a gift for writing, but she let her obsession with sex and her need to shock get in the way of it. Several parts in this book shine with something that seems very real and honest - the part about getting an abortion ("I love it when men take care of me"); her detailed interpretation of The Scarlet Letter; the sections where she discusses the fact that women writers are plagiarists, because they can only use the words that men have written before them, for centuries.

But in between all of these flashes of brilliance is a lot of monotonous c-words and f-words and endless repetition of sexual humiliation. It's my opinion that if she had left most of that out, she could have been a great and major writer. Not because I'm morally opposed to the vulgarity, but because it's really boring after awhile. So it's ironic that the extreme vulgarity of her work is probably what made her famous - she attracted attention with shock value, but her work is ultimately, in my view, weakened by the shocking aspect of it.

I thought one quote of Janey's, where she's talking to Jean Genet, explains pretty well why Acker persisted in writing obscene scenes:

"I know where we're travelling, Genet, and I know why we're travelling there. It's not just to travel, but it's so those others who kicked me out have a chance of being at peace, having a chance of knowing the land of the monster without going there.

Genet: Do you think that's possible?"

I think Genet's question is the central one to ask of all of Acker's works. Does she succeed in taking the reader to a place of degradation and filthy, raw, animal-like sex scenes, as she intends to? And if she succeeds at that, does the reader really want to go there, to the land of the monster? I suppose my opinion of the book is biased because I only want to peek into the land of the monster, and then I wish Acker to move on and tell an engrossing story with her unique and honest observations instead.

Overall, I think this is her most accessible book because the sex is not as nonstop as it is in Great Expectations or some of her others. But to me, it's frustrating to read Blood and Guts in High School because of the passages that make it so clear that she was capable of writing a much better, concise, and more focused book.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Janey is a little girl wandering through a fantasy landscape of men who reject her-- her father, Jean Genet, the Persian Slave Trader, Tommy. This is a book communicating a world of pain-- the dialogues in the beginning between Janey and her father as he prepares to leave her for someone else carry the weight of the agony of someone being betrayed by someone so close and all the little lies and tricks we use to pull closer and push away. It's also a book about illness. Janey constantly has pain and infections and disease that cripple her, but she always pushes the physical pain to one side to focus on the men who she knows from the beginning are going to leave her.
It is not the easiest book in the world to read-- the emotion, rather than the plot, is the thread that ties the book together. There's a section in the book which is a series of drawings by Janey that provide a map to her dreams. I used this map to give the reading experience a kind of structure and I found that thinking about the book as a dream landscape made the lack of narrative much less jarring.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 1996
First of all , this is not just a book ,this we have it's also a map toa trip that never happens.
Was the persian slave trader real , or was it on Janie's mind? We'll never know for sure , but it's a devastating experience to read how people can need so desperatly the love they will never achieve.
I am an esceptic reader , and so i suspect of the real pretension of the writer , but as a book (or whatever...) it caused a major impression on me.I guess we all got a little Janie inside of us.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2009
Pros: Like most of the books I've been reading lately (Gulliver's Travels, The Gallic Wars, Gardens of the Moon) this book contains some brilliant prose. The parts where Acker deconstructs the Scarlet Letter, comments on capitalist language, and provides the philosophy of the slave trader are particularly good. Even in less coherent passages, it is at least vivid. It is also short.

Cons: Its brevity is a good thing because also like most of the books I've been reading lately, over half the novel is pointless. In this case, the narrative gets so abstract that you can just skip over anything that begins to repeat itself or that makes no sense. Also in this case, the answer as to why the author chose to do this is in the novel - it's a rebellion against capitalist interest. The language is intentionally bad to deny the very people it is criticizing. If you bought the book, as I did, you are the scum she is talking about. Most people won't like this sort of criticism, and even if they do, as I did, it was still a pretty big waste of time. In a way, I love that this novel is pulling down every reader that picks it up. I can respect that kind of spite.

Summary: If you read this novel, you are its victim. If you are interested in that, then by all means read it. It wont be a pleasant journey, but you maybe satisfied anyway.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2003
I see that many reviewers feel repulsed and perturbed by this novel's somewhat shocking content and unconventional narrative style. While I can understand that some of the content may offend potential readers, and that the de-emphasizing of the plot (as opposed to lack of plot..there is, in fact, some narrative progression here) may baffle them, I can still state quite certainly that this book is a moving and thoroughly enjoyable read. I found myself identifying with the novel's protagonist, and suspect that there may be a little bit of Janey in everyone. The final chapters of the book are the most moving, culminating in a genuinely captivating sequence of illustrations that are every bit as important as the preceding text. So in final analysis: Yes, this book switches format many times - from dramatic dialogue, to conventional text (which itself changes subject many times), to poetry, to illustration. Yes there are lots of references to genetalia, and yes there are distinctly feminist overtones throughout. However, none of this should stop anyone from picking the book up and giving it an openminded read. It is not as difficult as some reviewers have made it out to be, and the shocking elements are not, as one reviewer claimed, there for controversy's sake. Take a trip into the mind of little Janey. You'll be glad you did.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
There is a certain point where you love punk and transgressive literature. It might last a few months or a few years, but it's shortly after you stop believing everything everyone tells you and before you discover your personality and how to best integrate it into society at large. In this time period, you should read books like The Catcher in the Rye, go to midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and listen to music that involves a lot of shouting and all the language that your parents would hate.

In that time period, this is the kind of book that you might love. It's vulgar. It's disgusting. It's in your face without apologies. The protagonist starts by talking about how disappointed she is that she no longer gets to have sex with her father. A few pages later she's talking about her abortions. There are several illustrations of genitalia. Midway through the book, there are doodles.

For some (of the age of rebellion and self-discovery) this may be a revelation and one of those books that defines one's youth. However, if you have already gone through that time period and you are looking for something more substantial than in-your-face attacks, this book can be a tedious exercise in excess. In fact, it stops being interesting around page 40 and gets quite boring in its repetitive use of abortions and tumors and sexual abuse. So while some might like it, most should probably steer clear. It has energy but no style.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2007
Excellent book. While my perfect rating (not that it matters) may drop over time, this was a jarringly satisfying read, one where the slipstream sexual complexity of all the smattered nonsense makes the cliches within (esp. at the end) all the more simple, profound, and resonant. It's something of an immature work perhaps, but I sort of think of it as the author really burying herself within the main character and speaking and thinking and expressing as she would, not that I think the novel should be understood merely as the record or diary of the protagonist. The book's language speaks in fits and starts, in diatribes and metaphors and irritating aphorisms. And tangential stories. And movie script. Poetry. Lessons. Pictograms. And jokes. It's stark. It's naked. It's pissed off. It's juvenile. And it's really refreshing. It's hardly perfect and I'm anxious to get into some of the author's other work in hopes of a more "fully realized" (whatever that means) novel. But to say that the lack of linearity or the somewhat prevalent vulgarity are liabilities of this book is to miss the point ENTIRELY. And the experience. I'd like to say that I read a lot but I don't. I'm a big music and film nerd and I generally take to the experimental or violent within each. So this book was right up my "alley". The only thing I could think to compare it to is Naked Lunch which is great. Anyway, it did touch a nerve in me and spoke to some kind of inner abused adolescent girl even if that makes me a fake bourgeois tourist. So what. The world is effed up and it was in 1977 and it is now. There's so much fake snobbery and indifference and condescending solutions. I think that's what the book decries and is ABOUT more than anything else. That and the fact that we desperately, foolishly, tirelessly make for ourselves our own embittering prisons. If you're a big prude don't read this stuff. Or rent horror movies. I'm sick of seeing people whine online about how offensive some piece of literature or film is. Yeah, thanks for the informed and creative warning, buddy! I didn't find this particular book to be all that offensive or vulgar anyway. It's no American Psycho, which really did churn my stomach and though I liked it, I certainly think Acker reveals a much greater and more perceptive moral sensibility in this book than does Ellis in his. What's the big deal with an old penis here and there? Anyway, don't read it if you're a whiny prude because we don't need to hear your complaining. But yes, very excellent. A real page-turner!!!!!!
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 1998
I tried really hard to like this book but to be honest I found its lack of a plot frustrating and it made the book really unenjoyable. I like Kathy Acker's style of writing, which is very stark and honest, and the idea of smattering the novel with poems and maps and drawings quite original, but neither worked for me. I felt the book was being confronting (lots of pictures of/references to genitals) for the sake of it and I struggled to finish it; by the time I had I was really sorry I'd bothered. I wouldn't reccommend this book for anyone who, like me, prefers the traditional narrative form of writing, nor anyone who is easily offended. I can see that this book might have had a point, but i obviously didn't get it.
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on July 25, 2015
insanely good, therapeutic, painful, glorious, one of the best reads out there.
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