The narrator, high school senior Charlie Decker, details his growing rage against the authority figures which populate his world. He finally snaps and hits one of his teachers with a heavy wrench he had taken to carrying in his pocket; after much wrangling and discussion, the incident was dropped and he was allowed to return to school. His mental problems worsen upon return to school and he snaps during a meeting with the school principal. This time, he storms out of the meeting and retrieves a gun from his locker. After setting the contents of the locker on fire, he returns to his classroom and shoots Mrs. Underwood, his math teacher. The fire sets off an alarm and the school begins to be evacuated. Charlie then shoots another teacher, Mr. Vance, after Vance enters the classroom to tell the students to evacuate. The school empties and the police and media arrive on the scene.
This begins a long afternoon's discussion with his hostages/fellow students. Among many other things, Charlie says that he honestly does not know why he chose to do these things and claims that if he did know, he probably wouldn't do them. While toying with various authority figures who attempt to negotiate with him, he turns the class into a sort of therapy group, causing his schoolmates to semi-voluntarily tell embarrassing secrets about themselves and each other. Interspersed throughout are narrative flashbacks to Charlie's own unpleasant childhood and adolescence, particularly his horrid relationship with his father, an abusive alcoholic.
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