This book has won a number of awards: the Sibert Honor in 2003, the Massachusetts Book Award for Children’s/Young Adult Literature in 2003, named a Printz Honor book in 2003, and was nominated for the Abraham Lincoln Award in 2007. Gantos tells the story of his life—or a small portion of it—in a “matter-of-fact” way that teens and adults alike can relate to.
Gantos comes from real-world experience and writes from his heart…even though the book is not at all “gushy” or “heart-warming.” It displays the hard truth of how one teenage boy learned (the hard way) the facts of life and in the end found his true calling.
Audience: Grade 8 and up. Maybe I am being too liberal on whom the intended audience for this book is, but I really thought the book was well-written and had an overall positive message. Preteens/tweens, teens, and adults would absolutely take something good away from reading this book. I think that we are doing no one a favor by sheltering our tweens from what prison life is truly like. Prison is not just a free meal, free bed and free medical care and we need to better educate our teens about that fact.
I liked this book. I have always been a big fan of memoirs. I thought Gantos wrote with a lot of candor and I felt almost as if the whole experience was more like I was having a chat about his life over coffee. Gantos felt real, tangible, and honest in his book. It cannot be an easy thing to do to lay out your flaws for the whole world to see, and that seems to be just what he’s done here–with a fair amount of success, considering the book’s accolades.
Themes: Nonfiction, memoir, coming of age, drugs, finding life’s joy, growing up, prison, prison violence, teen angst