The Gun Paul Langan Essay

The Bluford Series is a widely read collection of contemporary American young adult novels set in the fictional inner-city high school of Bluford High in Southern California.[1] The series was created and published by Townsend Press and is co-distributed by Scholastic. As part of an effort to promote reading in underfunded school districts, Townsend Press originally made the Bluford Series available to schools for a dollar each.[2] As of 2016, about 11 million Bluford Series novels were in print.


The Bluford Series is set in Bluford High School, the fictional school all the main characters attend. Each novel features a teenage protagonist facing difficult challenges in and out of school. Topics explored in the books include bullying, school violence, teenage pregnancy, divorce, peer pressure, and substance abuse. Despite these gritty topics, the Bluford Series has been praised widely for its engaging stories and responsible handling of difficult subject matter, earning positive reviews in Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. While each novel in the Bluford Series can be read independently, the books are interconnected and represent a span of about 2 years at Bluford high.


Reception for The Bluford Series has been positive,[3] with the ALA picking many of the books in the series as "Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers." [4][5] The ALA also selected Bluford titles as "Popular Paperbacks".[6] Educators in many states, including Florida and New York, have noted that the series has been well received by their student population.[7][8]

Of Brothers in Arms (Bluford Series #9), the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy wrote that the book's themes were applicable to struggling teens."[9]Kirkus Reviews called Survivor (Bluford Series #20), "a brave young-adult novel" and said the Bluford Series "offers unflinchingly honest plot situations to engage and educate readers." Similarly, School Library Journal called Promises to Keep (Bluford Series # 19), "compassionate, insightful, and educational, along with being action-packed, realistic, and emotionally and psychologically accurate." Favorable reviews for many Bluford titles can be found in Kirkus Reviews. In addition, The Horn Book singled out the Bluford Series as "perennially popular among urban teens" and listed three Bluford titles as "Good YA Urban Novels."

Facts About The Bluford Series[edit]

  • Survivor was selected by the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) as a 2014 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. It was also chosen as a "Top 10" for 2014 by In the Margins, a publication that seeks books suited to the interests and challenges of marginalized teens.
  • Search for Safety was selected by the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) as a 2013 Popular Paperback.
  • The Bluford Series was part of a 15-week study on the effectiveness of young adult literature as a therapeutic approach to students with emotional and behavioral disorders. This study was published in the April 2012 edition of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and showed the Bluford Series to be a powerful catalyst to help students learn constructive behaviors in and out of the classroom. Full citation: Verden, C. E. (2012), Reading Culturally Relevant Literature Aloud to Urban Youths With Behavioral Challenges. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55: 619–628. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00073
  • Breaking Point, The Test and Pretty Ugly were selected by the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) as 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.
  • The Gun (published by Scholastic as "Payback") was chosen by the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) as a 2012 Popular Paperback.
  • No Way Out and Schooled were selected by the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) as 2009 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.
  • Blood Is Thicker was selected by Mayor Daley’s Book Club for a citywide reading initiative in Chicago in 2009.
  • The Bully has been chosen by districts in multiple states for school-wide reading programs. It is also featured in Books That Don't Bore 'Em by James Blasingame, associate professor of English at Arizona State University and a former editor of The ALAN Review. Blasingame currently edits the "Books for Adolescents" pages of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.
  • In 2009 and 2010, Accelerated Reader listed the first 15 titles of the Bluford Series in the “top 40” books for both middle and high school struggling readers.
  • Over 43,000 reviews for Bluford Series titles are available now on Goodreads.
  • More than 10 million Bluford novels are in print as of 2015.
  • The Bluford Series has been credited with helping to popularize "Street Literature" as a genre for young adults. While the Bluford Series lacks some of the explicit content found in adult "Street Lit," its focus on urban life and the challenges of inner city teens has earned it a mention in Dr. Vanessa Irwin Morris's The Readers' Guide to Street Literature and on the website,


1Lost and Found2002Anne SchraffThis first book in the series, centers on the life of Bluford sophomore Darcy Wills. Darcy contends with the return of her long-absent father, the troubling behavior of her younger sister Jamee, and the beginning of her first relationship.
2A Matter of Trust2002Anne SchraffThis is a sequel to Lost and Found". Amid jealousy and competition with her old friend Brisana Meeks, Darcy fights for her relationship with Hakeem Randall and struggles with her fears over her own family's future.
3Secrets in the Shadows2002Anne SchraffRoylin Bailey is a Bluford sophomore who appeared in" A Matter of Trust". Roylin makes a terrible mistake: He steals money from his friend to buy a gift for the girl of his dreams and finds himself in a nightmare he cannot escape.
4Someone to Love Me2002Anne SchraffCindy Gibson is a freshman at Bluford High who first appeared in "Lost and Found". She struggles with a stormy relationship with her mother, ongoing trouble at school, a dangerous boyfriend named Bobby Wallace, and worse. Will her fragile family survive?
5The Bully2002Paul LanganDarrell Mercer is a new bluford freshmen. He and his mother move from Philadelphia to the Bluford area in California in the middle of the school year. Physically smaller than his peers, Darrell quickly becomes a target for Tyray Hobbs, the freshman class bully.
6The Gun/Payback[10]2002Paul LanganThe sequel to The Bully, this book is about Bluford freshman Tyray Hobbs, the tormentor of Darrell Mercer. The tale traces Tyray's troubled home life, his desire to rebuild his reputation, and his quest to get revenge on Darrell, the only boy who ever stood up to him.
7Until We Meet Again2002Anne SchraffSequel to A Matter of Trust, this story continues the tale of Darcy Wills . Darcy learns that Hakeem Randall, her first boyfriend, is moving to Detroit. Then her grandmother's health declines and a mysterious new person comes into her life.
8Blood is Thicker2004Paul Langan and D.M. BlackwellThis sequel to Until We Meet Again follows the story of Hakeem Randall moving to Detroit. Far from Bluford High and his friends and neighborhood in Southern California, Hakeem quickly finds himself in a world of trouble, and his cousin Savon is at the center of it.
9Brothers in Arms2004Paul Langan and Ben AlirezMartin Luna, a new sophomore at Bluford High, is at the center of this story. Haunted by the tragic death of his eight- year - old brother Huero, Martin seeks one thing: revenge. But his mother wants more for her only remaining child. Will Martin listen to her, or will he allow anger to control him?
10Summer of Secrets2004Paul LanganDarcy Wills is at the center of this tale, a sequel to Until We Meet Again. Darcy hides a painful secret from her friends and family. Yet others, including her parents and her childhood friend, are keeping secrets of their own. When the truth finally surfaces, Darcy's entire world is turned upside down forever.
11The Fallen2007Paul LanganThis sequel to Brothers in Arms picks up the story of Martin Luna as he struggles to rebuild his life after the death of his little brother Huero. In trouble at Bluford High School for fighting, Martin faces an even bigger problem at home: Frankie Pacheco, the most feared homeboy from his neighborhood, is hunting him. Alone and with time running out, Martin must make a choice. Will it save him or destroy him?
12Shattered2007Paul LanganThis sequel to Summer of Secrets continues the story of Darcy Wills as she begins her junior year at Bluford High School. Eager to repair her relationship with her old boyfriend Hakeem Randall, Darcy discovers that one of her biggest fears has come true. And worse: her closest friends have been secretly lying to her.
13Search for Safety2007John LanganSearch for Safety tells the story of Ben McKee, a new sophomore at Bluford High School. At home, Ben is living a nightmare. His mother has married Larry Taylor, an abusive man who wants nothing to do with his stepson. And when Larry loses his job and starts drinking, Ben finds himself—and his mother—in grave danger.
14No Way Out2009Peggy KernNo Way Out follows Harold Davis, a Bluford freshman who has appeared in The Bully, Someone to Love Me, "The Gun/Payback", and "Search For Safety" . In this tale, Harold is trapped. Medical bills for his sick grandmother are piling up, and a social worker has threatened to put him in a foster home. Desperate for money, he reluctantly agrees to work for Londell James, the neighborhood drug dealer. The choice leads him into a world of dangerous streets where no one is safe. Will Harold escape the violence that surrounds him, or will he become its next victim?
15Schooled2009Paul LanganIn this book, Lionel Shepard, a freshman, is introduced. There’s no backing down for Lionel . With a dream of joining the NBA, all he wants to do at school is play basketball. But everyone’s trying to stop him. His father thinks basketball is a waste of time; his teachers don’t know he can barely read and threaten to fail him; and his dropout friend Jamar Coles wants him to quit school. Unsure where to turn, Lionel must make a choice. Will he pursue his dream or get caught in a nightmare?
16Breaking Point2011Karyn Langhorne Folan and Paul LanganBreaking Point follows the story of Vicky Fallon, a Bluford sophomore who appeared in Brothers in Arms and The Fallen. In this story, Vicky can't take it. Her father has lost his job. Her parents are constantly fighting, and her troubled little brother Danny is out of control. Once an honor student, Vicky is quickly falling behind in her classes at Bluford High. Now her teachers, friends, and her new friend, Martin Luna, want answers. Pressured from all sides, Vicky knows something is about to snap. But the explosion that hits her home is worse than anything she could imagine.
17The Test2011Peggy KernLiselle Mason, a former Bluford student who first appeared in Until We Meet Again, is in trouble. For weeks, she ignored the changes in her body and tried to forget her brief relationship with Oscar Price, her moody classmate at Bluford High. But when Liselle's clothes stop fitting, and her brother Brian notices her growing belly, she panics. A pregnancy test confirms her biggest fears. Unwilling to admit the truth, Liselle suddenly faces a world with no easy answers. Where will she turn? Who will she tell? What will she do?
18Pretty Ugly2011Karyn Langhorne FolanThis book follows Jamee Wills, the little sister of Darcy Wills, who has appeared in many titles including Lost and Found, A Matter of Trust, "Someone To Love Me", "The Bully", "The Gun/Payback", Until We Meet Again, "Summer of Secrets", "Shattered", "Search For Safety", "Schooled", and "The Test". A freshman at Bluford High, Jamee never expected Vanessa Pierce, a junior at Bluford, and her friends to go this far. The trouble starts at cheerleading practice when Vanessa begins teasing Angel McAllister, a shy new girl at school. When the insults turn nasty, Jamee tried to stop them. She wins Angel's friendship but makes many enemies. Now Jamee is a target, and someone is texting lies and pictures of her and Angel all over Bluford. Unwilling to tell her family or snitch on her fellow cheerleaders, Jamee is cornered. Will her next move solve her problems---or make them worse?
19Promises to Keep2013Paul LanganThis book follows Tyray Hobbs, a sequel to The Gun/Payback. Once a feared bully, he’s become an outcast. At Bluford High, his peers taunt him for how he treated them. At home, his parents punish him for the trouble he’s caused. Unable to escape his reputation or his past, Tyray is desperate. And when an unlikely friendship develops, he clings to it like a lifeline. Now that connection is threatened, and Tyray faces his toughest decision yet. Will his next move lead him to ruin or redemption—or both?
20Survivor2013Paul LanganThis book follows Tarah Carson, a character who has appeared in many Bluford novels like "Lost and Found", "A Matter Of Trust", "Secrets in the Shadows", "Until We Meet Again", "Blood is Thicker", "Summer of Secrets", "Shattered", and "Pretty Ugly". Tarah has hidden a secret for years. No one—not her mother, her friends at Bluford High, or even her boyfriend, Cooper Hodden—knows what her uncle did to her years ago. Tarah hoped to keep it that way. But an upcoming family reunion is forcing Tarah’s past into the present. And Uncle Rudy, the man who scarred her for life, is returning. Haunted by memories, Tarah plans to avoid him at all costs. But when her decision threatens to cause even more suffering in her family, she must face her past and biggest fear—alone.
21Girls Like Me2016Tanya SavoryThis book explores the backstory of Angel McAllister, a character who first appears in Pretty Ugly. Angel's worst nightmare has come true. Her best friend, Sharice Bell, has discovered her most intimate secret. And a new enemy, LaDonna Burns, is on the warpath. Gossip and rumors are spreading through school like wildfire, and Angel’s classmates are turning on her. Can she bury the secret and put out the flames? Or will Angel face the truth—and its life-changing consequences?

Reading order of the series[edit]

Year 1[edit]

The Darcy Wills and Classmates Sequence:

  1. Lost and Found(Darcy Wills-sophomore-October)
  2. A Matter of Trust(Darcy Wills-sophomore)
  3. Secrets in the Shadows(Roylin Bailey-Darcy's classmate-sophomore)
  4. Until We Meet Again(Darcy Wills-sophomore-June)
  5. Blood Is Thicker(Hakeem Randall-Darcy's boyfriend-June)
  6. Summer of Secrets(Darcy Wills-July)
  7. Survivor(Tarah Carson- Darcy's best friend-August)
  8. Shattered(Darcy Wills-junior-September)

The Martin Luna Sequence:

  1. Brothers in Arms(Martin Luna-sophomore-July-September)
  2. The Fallen(Martin Luna-sophomore-October)
  3. Breaking Point(Vicky Fallon-Martin's classmate and love interest-sophomore)

Year 2[edit]

The Jamee Wills and Classmates Sequence:

  1. Girls Like Me(Angel McAllister-Jamee's new friend-eight grade-June)
  2. Pretty Ugly(Jamee Wills-freshmen-September)
  3. Schooled(Lionel Shepard-a guy in Jamee's lunch period-freshmen-October)
  4. Someone to Love Me(Cindy Gibson-Jamee's best friend-freshmen-October)
  5. The Bully(Darrell Mercer-Jamee's new classmate-freshmen-November to January)
  6. The Gun (Payback)(Tyray Hobbs-Jamee's classmate-freshmen)
  7. Promises to Keep(Tyray Hobbs-Jamee's classmate-freshmen)
  8. No Way Out(Harold Davis-Jamee's classmate-freshmen-March)
  9. Search for Safety(Ben McKee-Jamee's new classmate-sophomore-August and September)
  10. The Test(Liselle Mason-Jamee's neighbor-sophomore-January)


  1. ^Allen, C. Ron. NOVEL IDEA: PROGRAM GIVES STUDENTS AN INCENTIVE TO READ South Florida Sun - Sentinel. Nov 17, 2004
  2. ^How a book club for reluctant readers proved the naysayers wrong. School Library Journal
  3. ^Grades 5 & UpArchived 2012-05-27 at the Wayback Machine. School Library Journal
  4. ^2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers ALA
  5. ^2009 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers ALA
  6. ^2012 Popular Paperback ALA
  7. ^Mobley, Amber. Book series creates reading craze Tampa Bay Times. April 16, 2007Archived September 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^Behind Books for Urban Students, an Unlikely Author New York Times
  9. ^Blasingame, James. "Reviews-Books for Adolescents." Journal of Adolescents & Adult Literacy. December 2004. p. 4
  10. ^MultiCultural review. Volume 16, Issues 1-4. GP Subscription Publications, 2007.

External links[edit]

Langan (Survivor, 2013, etc.), the editor of the YA Bluford High series and author of several in the series, offers a cleareyed look at the challenges faced by an inner-city high school student and his family.

The walls are closing in on 15-year-old Tyray Hobbs. Tough and big for his age, he’s an academic failure who’s been bullying other kids for years. Everyone is scared of him, even the few guys who hang out with him. That all changes in an instant when Darrell Mercer, Tyray’s longtime victim, turns the tables and publicly overpowers him. His humiliation complete and no longer feared, Tyray is now openly taunted and ostracized by all his fellow classmates. With violent crime and drug dealing commonplace in Tyray’s world, he responds to defeat by procuring a gun from someone in his neighborhood and going after Darrell in a dark alley. Darrell escapes the tense situation and helps stop any further violence, including Tyray’s suicide attempt. But when word of the gun and the abortive shootout reaches Tyray’s father, he reacts with fury. Nonetheless, he helps his younger son hide the weapon; it’s too late for the father to help Warren, his older son, who’s already in prison for a gun-related crime. In a stinging assertion, Tyray’s father tells him he’s no good and he’ll end up in prison like his brother. But Tyray isn’t yet ready to change. Further along in his journey, he’s guided by a compassionate teacher; his rueful brother, Warren; and Lark, a genuinely caring girl. Finally, by helping someone else out of a dangerous spot, he gains understanding and hope for redemption. Although the story follows a somewhat predictable YA trajectory, it doesn’t condescend to its audience or minimize the stakes. Action and characters ring true, and the language is conversational rather than unfailingly correct, though the author doesn’t attempt to be overly hip with the latest street slang. The tense, realistic story shows how quickly situations among young people can turn violent—even deadly—despite the best efforts of school officials and parents.

A sharp, shockingly believable look at the inner-city life of a student.

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