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Project Sweet Life by Brent Hartinger

Project Sweet Life
y Brent Hartinger

Publishing Information: HarperTeen: New York, 2009
ISBN: 9780060824112 / 9780061766862 (eBook)
: 282 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Three high school junior boys devise money-making schemes to avoid taking jobs so they can enjoy the “sweet life” one last summer before accepting the responsibilities of the real world.

When their fathers insist that they secure summer jobs, three fifteen-year-old friends in Tacoma, Washington, dedicate their summer vacation to fooling their parents into thinking that they are working, which proves to be harder than having real jobs would have been.

Book Talk:
There is an unwritten rule that says you shouldn’t have to have a summer job when you’re 15. You can if you want, but you shouldn’t be required to do so. At least, this is what Curtis, Dave and Victor believe. Unfortunately, their parents don’t agree. So begins the plan for what the three best friends call Project Sweet Life. The goal, to trick their parents into believing they have summer jobs without really having them. On top of that, they’re going to have to figure out a way to make the money they would have made had they actually secured summer jobs. The boys encounter several mishaps along the way as they plan and execute their many money-making schemes which become adventures in themselves.   Will they make the money they need before the summer is up? Will they be able to keep their secret from their parents from figuring out about Project Sweet Life? Summer can’t last forever....

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Money-Making Schemes
Summer Employment

Awards & Reviews:
Missouri Truamn Award Nominee, 2012
Utah Beehive Award Nominee, 2011
Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Nominee, 2011

Washington State Library “Washington Reads” Pick, 2009

Booklist, October 1, 2009
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March 1, 2009
Horn Book
, October, 1, 2009
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2009
School Library Journal, April 1, 2009
Teacher Librarian, February 1, 2011

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. What are some character traits that Victor, Curtis and Dave display in this novel?
  2. What is the role of friendship in this novel? Consider the parents as well as the boys.
  3. Name and discuss other anti-national events in US History.
  4. Is it important to work hard in life? Does working hard build "character?" There is an expression “idle hands are the devil’s playground” which basically says that if you’re not working hard, then you’re going to have trouble, Do you believe this saying to be true? Is there anything wrong with having a little fun?
  5. Where in this novel do you see evidence of integrity? Where do you see evidence of distrust?
  6. Are the boys ethical? Explain.
  7. What does this novel explain in terms of the anti-Chinese treatment?
  8. Dave’s father believes “You are who you surround yourself with.” Do you agree with this statement? How do you feel about what Dave says to his father at the end of the book in regard to this topic? Explain.
  9. Discuss the role of authority in this book. Consider the boys’ parents and the “demands” they make as well as the boys’ encounters with other adults including the police.
  10. Which of the boys do you identify with? Explain.
  11. The boys seem to have worked harder not working than they would have if they had summer jobs. Have you ever had this experience, trying to make things simpler but actually making them more difficult? Did you learn something in the process, or was it a waste of time?
  12. Discuss the role of women in this novel. How are the boys both helped and hindered by the women/girls they encounter?
  13. What are the redeeming factors in this novel?
  14. Some adults think that the younger generation is lazy and/or immoral. Do you believe this to be true? Are there ways the younger generation is more moral and works harder than the previous generation? Discuss the adult expectations of youth today and of an earlier generation..say your parents or grandparents.     
  15. What about the book impacted you the most? Why?

Related Websites:
Author's Website -
The Chinese Reconciliation Project of Tacoma, Washington -
The Chinese Reconciliation Resolution -
A "How to" for Summer Employment for Teens -
More "How to" for Teen Summer Employment -
Parental Authority -
Parental Authority Questionnaire -
Teenagers and Summer Employment -
Teens, Summer Work, and the Good They Do for the City with a Summer Job Corps - authority questionnaire.pdf

Acceleration by Graham McNamee, 2003 (2006 RITBA Nominee)
Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty
by Jody Gehrman, 2008
Death at Devil's Bridge by Cynthia C. DeFelice, 2000
Dog Walker
by Karen Spafford-Fitz, 2006
Dung by David Lubar, 2002
Losing Joe's Place by Gordon Korman, 1990
My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters by Sydney Salter, 2009
One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte, 1991
Patiently Alice
by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds, 2003
Pool Boy
by Michael Simmons, 2003
Roxy's Rules
by Lauren Brown, 2010
Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer, 1998
Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, 2008
Truth or Dairy
by Catherine Clark, 2000
Zipped by Laura McNeal, 2003

Other Books by the Author:
Geography Club
, 2003 (2005 RITBA Nominee)
The Last Chance Texaco, 2004
The Order of the Poison Oak, 2005
Grand & Humble, 2006
Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies, 2007
Dreamquest: Tales of Slumberia, 2007

About the Author:
Brent Hartinger lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Michael Jenson. He is the author of eight young adult fiction novels as well as several plays and screen plays. He is an adjunct professor at Vermont College, although he is currently on leave to focus on his writing. To learn more about Brent Hartinger visit his website at

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair