Every Day by David Levithan

Imagine waking up every day in a new body, needing to figure out who you are before your friends and family figure out that you are not who you should be. No past. No future. No continuity.

….and then one day, you meet the love of your life…and how to explain to her, a heterosexual engendered person, that not only do you love her, but you will be a different person each and every day.

“A”, the narrator, has lived zir1 life quite literally one day at a time. Zie lives 24 hours in a particular body, then (PAFF!) at midnight transfers into a new body. Male. Female. Rich. Poor. Gay. Straight. Drug addicted. Depressed. White, black, Hispanic, zie never knows until zie opens zir eyes what the new day will be like. Until now, zie’s simply accepted this is what zir life will be like…until zie meets the love of zir life, Rhiannon, when zie inhabits the body of Rhiannon’s boyfriend, Justin.

Suddenly A has a reason to desire continuity but no power to enable this…but zie tries. Whenever zie can, zie sneaks away from zir daily duties to meet with Rhiannon; if this means cutting school, or making excuses to a middle to upper class family, no problems, at least aside from the question of which gender A will be on any consecutive day. A has no problem with this, as this is how zie’s lived for all zir life. Rhiannon, not so much; as A notices, she is more affectionate when zie is a male. It helps that A’s jumps from person to person are limited to a limited geographic region, though this is not clear whether the region is limited to zir original area or to a limited range from where zir body is when the transfer takes place at midnight2.

As A and Rhiannon attempt to become closer, A realizes how much of a burden this shifting from body to body could be, something zie’s always accepted until now, and Rhiannon begins to realize how much she does not love her ostensible boyfriend, Justin. Unfortunately, things don’t work out between the two, and for more or less the reasons one might expect.

A complication is that one of the recent people whom A has inhabited remembers what has happened, or rather wonders what has happened inasmuch as he woke up, shortly after A’s transition out of his body, being awoken by police officers wondering why this stone cold sober young man has fallen asleep in his car on the verge of the highway. Nathan has gone public with this issue, with some support from a pastor who believes in demonic possession. A is simultaneously trying to reassure and put off Nathan while trying to reconcile zir relationship with Rhiannon, only to find out from the pastor that there may not only be other people like zirself but a way to stop the cycle of transferring from body to body.

And yet A chooses to remain in the cycle which zie’s known all zir life, despite the possibility that zie might choose to remain in a body which Rhiannon found acceptable.

Something to keep in mind for those considering reading this: it’s a romance novel, not science fiction. Strip away all the tropes, and you have the basic question of “Do I love the body or the soul? The physical outward presentation or the inward being?” I’m not going to pick apart the science fiction elements, though I would like to go on record as saying that they’re annoying. For example: A does not become the person but rather inhabits that stranger’s body for a day; zie can access basic information about the person, such as family members’ names and school, but not all the skills that person has, such as the ability to downhill ski or speak languages unknown to A.

From a continuity standpoint, this makes perfect sense; otherwise, how would A remember from day to day that zie loves Rhiannon? As a science fiction device, however, this inability to use all the skills the body’s owner has at his/her fingertips is problematic. One might reasonably assume that all the kids in a given geographic area will have the same basic skills but adults’ abilities diverge a great deal more. What if A wakes up in the body of an auto mechanic or an elite athlete in the middle of a competition or an interpreter for the U.N. or…Zie’d end up calling in sick to work an awful lot! Indeed, this already has posed problems–twice during the book, A transfers into someone whose home language is not English, and Levithan fudges awfully kludgily when trying to work around this.

I’ll accept that Levithan does not explain why A is the way zie is, because this is told from A’s perspective entirely. Zie doesn’t know, therefore zie cannot explain. I’ll accept that while there may be others like A, and that there is at least one person who knows how to control the process by which zie switches from body to body, A may not either understand how that’s possible or want to stop in one body…because that’s not the point of the book. I think the point of the book is: if you could, would you? If you could stop the world the way it was at any given moment, if you could control the emotions and decisions of the one true love of your life, would you? Or would that be wresting free choice from that other person? Shouldn’t you accept that you must allow that person to choose for herself?

I wouldn’t want the control; that’s not love but manipulation and control. You?

1Readers, forgive me. This is one of the few instances where I think that the constructed gender-neutral pronouns are necessary. Bear with me.
2i.e. if the person in whose body A is that day flies to Hawaii…does A then become limited to Hawaii?

London Calling by Edward Bloor

No, not the Clash song but rather a novel about making things right with one’s relatives who’ve passed away, and a few who are still alive; the title of both the song and the novel do refer back to the same thing, however: the BBC’s standard opener for their broadcasts during World War II.

The book begins with an explanatory (more or less) prefacing prologue, in which the protagonist, Martin, now an adult, is reminded of a pivotal period in his adolescence. The main body begins with a dustup on the last day of school between Martin (and his two buddies) and the school bully (and his two goon sidekicks). Things start to go wrong in the classroom when Martin’s friend, an Asian Indian named Pinak, speaks up about the not-so-heroic nature of the World War II era general to whom the school is about to erect1 a statue (in Carrara marble no less). The great-grandson of the general, a classmate, takes them up on that outside the school after classes end for the day, which results in Manetti, Martin’s other friend, lobbing a rock at Lowery…and Manetti is then kicked out because of the damage, rather than Lowery for provoking the attack2.

Martin’s grandmother, sinking into dementia, calls Martin, himself struggling with depression, at random times of the day and night over the first weeks of the following summer; she mentions a Philco cathedral radio3 to which she listened during World War II, and asks “Did that little boy4 find you?” The grandmother dies shortly after the second of these calls, and Martin finds out that he has inherited the radio his Nana mentioned. Already struggling with school, Martin asks for and is permitted to take a semester off after the fight at school and his grandmother’s death, on the condition that he do independent study projects during that time.

Always a vivid dreamer, Martin begins having what appear to be only dreams. The first, a real dream, involves his grandfather (husband of the grandmother who’s just died) searching frantically through a room for “Jimmy”, the boy Martin’s Nana mentioned to him, but shortly afterward, Jimmy leans out from behind the Philco and speaks to Martin directly.

…and it’s not a dream. Or is it? Over the next few weeks, Martin apparently travels back in time several times to the Blitz in London to Jimmy, an eight-year-old boy living then and there. During these visits, Jimmy drops references to various events and people at the time that might lend credence to his claim, if only Martin can prove them! Some are easily checked, such as Joseph Kennedy sending his family home prior to the bombings, while others are more obscure–did Arsenal play at any other arenas during the Blitz than their usual one? As Martin becomes more involved with this visitor from the past, he begins researching the time period while awake. At first this is simply an attempt to prove whether Martin’s connection to Jimmy is real or only a dream, but subsequently as school projects, and finally as a way to carry out the mission that Jimmy has left with him: tell Jimmy’s father, still alive so many decades later, that he did do a good job with his son, but did not kill the man he knocked out.

This is an interesting combination of spiritualism and Catholicism, family relations, alcoholism and mental illness, the past and the present. There are, of course, several things to keep in mind. First off, this book is very different from Bloor’s first novel, Tangerine; it’s much more of a fantasy than the strictly reality based (though somewhat surreal) setting of Tangerine. Secondly, Catholicism plays a large part in the book; if religion bothers you, don’t read this book…though it didn’t strike me as inappropriate here, I know many people are bothered by the suggestion that spiritualism and angel visitations have anything to do with the relatively sober modern religions. While I know many people strongly encourage kids to read religious works, this isn’t that kind of religious book; others prefer their children’s reading to be purely secular.

What to read next? If you liked the World War II setting, try the “Children’s War” blog–the link’s listed below. If you like the dream-or-time travel aspect into history, try Cameron’s Court of the Stone Children.

The Children’s War, at Blogspot

1for those readers with a particularly juvenile-male sense of humor, actually you’re not too far wrong here; the person’s not entirely nice
2isn’t it amazing what you can get away with when your family donates flipping great wodges of money to a school?
3keep an eye on the radio
4keep an eye on the little boy…

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Just to set the record straight: the title refers not to the state but to a person named after the state. Strictly speaking, Alaska herself is never lost, merely her motive for doing the pivotal action in the book. (Spoilers below.)

As the book begins, Miles Halter is attending his local public day school and, being a bookish shy scrawny boy who collects ‘last words’ of famous people from their deathbeds, has few friends. His parents decide to send him to a small boarding school in Alabama for the greater socialization potential, and Miles, recognizing the chance for a new start, agrees…and after only two people attend his going away party, and that on their way somewhere else, even the readers have to agree that this may be a better start all ’round, even though it means going to another high school in his junior year.

Culver Creek proves at least somewhat of an improvement, not least because Miles gets on well with his roommate, Chip Martin, and Chip’s best friend, a senior girl named Alaska Young. (Keep an eye on her. Not surprisingly.) Chip’s earned the nickname of “The Colonel” because he plans out all of Alaska’s wild ideas for pranks; indeed, she is the queen of pranking in a school which, as do others, has a tradition of not only cliques but pranking animosity between those cliques. Here, the main divide is between the students who live far enough away from the school to be forced into staying over the weekends during term time and the kids who live close enough to escape to their parents’ luxurious air-conditioned homes.

Miles’ time at the school begins mixed: while he becomes bosom buddies with The Colonel, who nicknames him “Pudge” because he is so scrawny, the “Weekend Warriors” go a bit beyond the usual initiation rites of a new student and do not merely dump him in the pond but wrap him in duct tape beforehand so he resembles nothing more than a mummy. He nearly drowns, but wriggles ashore and squirms to safety, at which point The Colonel and Alaska declare an all-out, year-long pranking war on the Weekend Warriors. Academically, the school proves more challenging and more interesting to Miles, not least his comparative religion class, taught by an elderly man who’s lost a lung. Miles’ interest in people’s last words have lead to a deeper curiosity about what happens after death, and the different answers religions have come up with, and not surprisingly this class feeds straight into that interest.

His friendship with Chip and Alaska grows as the year goes on; they go to Chip’s home for Thanksgiving. (Well, really his trailer, and not the mobile home sort either. We’re talking the sort of cap trailer that people haul with their pickup trucks; this is all Chip’s mother can manage, and Chip sleeps outside in a tent–not so much a hardship in the South.) Back at school, they sink back into the school rounds of classes, crummy meals and going back to dorm rooms to amuse themselves with activities their parents are better off not knowing about. One night’s drinking transmutes into a tipsily honest game of Truth or Dare, in which Alaska confesses that her mother died of an aneurysm some years previously, while the eight-year-old Alaska looked on, frozen in horror. Her father’s first reaction upon coming home was to yell at Alaska for NOT calling 911. Alaska has never lived this down, and each year on the anniversary of her mother’s death, she goes to the grave and leaves a bouquet of white flowers. A couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, after another evening (and early morning) of heavy drinking, Alaska bolts from the school campus after a call from her college boyfriend crying something about “I forgot! It’s too late!”

…and plows her car into a state trooper’s car, parked at the side of the road where the officer had left it after arriving at the scene of another previous accident. The officer and the other drivers are fine, but Alaska died almost instantly, before the officer whose car had been collided with even managed to take in that there had been a crash.

Chip and Miles investigate the incident as best they can, but the best they can come up with is that Alaska had forgotten to put flowers on her mother’s grave that year, and that’s where she may have been going…but it may have been Alaska’s own wish for death that led her to drive while intoxicated. They’ll never know. Realizing that there’s nothing more to be done, they determine to carry out Alaska’s last and greatest prank, which she’d been planning for their graduation ceremony: hire a male stripper to perform at the ceremony. Which they do, under the guise of a psychology professor reading his preliminary paper.

This is not a book suited for preserving the innocent ignorance of readers about what goes on in boarding schools. The kids smoke, the kids drink, the kids run around with each other after lights-out and play nasty pranks on each other. Having never attended one at the grade level in question, I can’t attest to the truth of Looking for Alaska, but I’d bet that John Green isn’t as far off the mark about students do in boarding schools as parents would like to think. Perhaps not to the extreme that this book takes the logic chain, but certainly smoking’s there and drinking. Since when has it not been?

It’s the sort of book that older teens would enjoy, if they like book discussion type books, but which will cause great controversy among the more conservative Responsible Adults in the community. Looking for Alaska involves smoking, drinking, obscenity, teenagers pranking each other, and culminating with a death which might be a form of suicide or might be the result of drinking and driving….all of which might place it firmly in the adult collection of a library, or perhaps might inspire progressive educators to give it to those very teens whose parents are horrified by such things. Not to lead said teens astray, mind. Rather to show the kids something they may want to know: they are not invulnerable.

Waiting for June by Joyce Sweeney

Warning: some spoilers down at the end.

Sophie is a high school student with aspirations of college and a talent for writing poetry. Sophie is pregnant, but will not reveal the name of the father. How to balance the pressures of society to involve the father of her child, not to mention her own incipient child’s needs, with the desire to better herself?

To compound the problem, everyone assumes that the father is her best friend, Joshua, who happens to be African-American…and that she’s keeping mum because he’s now dating someone else. (He isn’t the father. That’s not why she’s not identifying the father of her child.) To further compound that problem, she is herself the daughter of a single mother who will not reveal the identity of her father, despite Sophie’s doctor wanting to know about her paternal genetic heritage. Her mother disapproves of her friendship with Joshua, and Sophie believes this is because of Joshua’s race. (It isn’t because of Joshua’s race.)

Mostly, she just wants to finish high school without too many more run-ins with the Mean Girls, save enough for college, find out more about her own father,figure out how to balance her child and her figurative dreams of college, figure out why she keeps having literal dreams of swimming with whales, and who has been sending her anonymous hate letters. Oh, and properly mourn Nestor, a classmate who died the previous year while playing in a basketball game.

Sophie has been having peculiar dreams of whales–that she is a whale, itself about to give birth with the support of its pod. Her obstetrician claims that they’re only a result of the sonogram, as whales communicate through sound. After delving further into this with the help of a boy she babysits, she discovers that more specifically she’s dreaming of the Tequesta Indians, a lesser-known (and presumed gone) tribe of Indians in the Biscayne Bay area which were involved with whales.

The letters are formed from letters cut out from teen magazines and stuck in place with clear nail polish, shoved in through the vents in her locker at school, so it’s not too far a leap to guess that they’re from a classmate.

The school year and her pregnancy both advance at about the expected rate, and things come to a head in more ways than one at the school prom. Joshua and Acacia have loaned her a prom dress that fits over her pregnancy, included her in their trip by rented limo to the high school. It is now, however, that not only does she realize she’s in labor, but the girlfriend of the dead basketball player confronts her in the girl’s bathroom about how Sophie stole Nestor from Bianca.

Sophie goes into a sort of fugue state, arousing only after reaching the hospital in a state of advanced active labor. It is only after she gives birth that she finds out that she is biracial…and that Nestor (the father of her baby) is not Cuban but a member of the long-lost Tequesta tribe and a member of the Ballena tribe. Yep, she’s related to whales. Oh, and blackbirds, through Nestor’s father: Bianca was apparently whisked away to the local mental institution, raving about how Sophie called down a flock of blackbirds to attack her.

Overall, it’s a book based in magical realism rather than in after-school PSAs about the problems of unmarried teen motherhood. I might have liked it better had Sweeney left out the mysticism; just the issues of teen motherhood would have been enough. Madeleine L’Engle’s the only one who managed to combine the two at all plausibly and even then her later books left me scratching my head perplexedly at times. Teens might like it better though. I’d love to find out.

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd

Told as a flashback, readers can see where the denouement of this book will take place, but not as yet why the narrator is where she is: trying to sneak onto the ferry from England (or rather Wales) to Ireland.

As the flashback begins, Holly Hogan, fourteen, is living in Templeton House, awaiting foster care placement. She’s reasonably happy where she is–she’s got two mates with whom she stravages around London, and she adores her “key”1 worker, Miko. However, Miko is looking for work elsewhere and Holly is going to go to Fiona and Ray Aldredge in Tooting Bec.

Holly is unable to bear living with this pair of too too earnest wholesome Londoners, whom she believes to be only replacing the child they cannot have with a second-best ready-made child who needs a home. She finds an ash-blonde wig hidden away in the bottom of a dresser drawer in her new home, and invents an alter-ego for herself, Solace, a tough and independent seventeen-year-old girl. She steals what cash she can–twenty-four pounds sounds a lot to a fourteen-year-old though an adult can see how pitifully small the amount is–and heads for Ireland.

Holly dreams of running away to join her mother in Ireland, where Bridget has gone to escape her partner…or has she? We learn tidbits about Holly’s life with her mother in “the sky house” alternating with descriptions of her flight from London across to the ferry landing.

Twenty-four pounds doesn’t go nearly as far as Holly expects it to, never mind the problems that a fourteen-year old faces even if others believe her to be seventeen. Her flight involves not only a bus trip to Oxford, where she is mistaken for a student, but hitchhiking–her rides include a vegan truck driver with a load of cheese who, when he finds out that it’s her birthday, buys her a strawberry spongecake with pretend candles–and sneaking aboard the night train to the ferry landing, hiding in the bathroom when it seems likely that someone will come around to collect tickets. She arrives at the ferry landing, having left her “lizard” bag aboard the train, just as Jane Eyre leaves her trunk aboard the train fleeing from Mr. Rochester2, and does manage to secrete herself in the back of what would be called an SUV in the States, and is taken aboard the ferry…only to get locked in as the owners leave their car.

It is here that she dredges up the last missing suppressed piece of her memories of childhood: her mother did not leave Holly in order to flee for Ireland escaping the abusive man in her life, she abandoned Holly in order to go after the man who was her drug supplier and her pimp, pausing only to call Social Services anonymously to inform them that Holly was alone in the apartments. It is at this point on the ferry that she turns herself in to the crew of the ferry, before she sets foot on Irish soil, and is taken back to the safety of a genuinely loving family, the Aldreges.

Oh, and the wig? It’s the one that Fiona Aldredge wore while she was herself suffering through the treatment for the cancer which rendered her unable to have children.

In the beginning, Holly comes across as a terribly self-centered girl, oblivious of the emotional needs of others. Bear with her. As we learn more about her background, readers may…not necessarily warm up to her but at least view her with more compassion. In some ways, this struck me as a more objective depiction of a girl who’d emerged from a disastrous situation no more intact than Shell in A Swift Pure Cry. (and like other reviewers, I appreciate that while there were a couple of creeps and creepy people, on the whole the people whom Holly encountered were good: they did what they did because they wanted to, expecting nothing in return.)

Published after Dowd’s death, I’m assuming that this was at least in part edited by another author though perhaps to a lesser extent than Ness’s work on A Monster Calls. Certainly the language here strikes me as being somewhat different from A Swift Pure Cry and Bog Child, though that may be as much because it’s being told from the perspective of a child who’s grown up in London rather than one from Ireland, as it is because it’s been edited (finished) by a different author. This may be a harder book to read than A Swift Pure Cry as there’s much less of a fairy tale aspect to Holly’s memories of her life with her mother than Shell’s meanderings through rural Ireland.

The Guardian
Common Sense Media
Crossover Review
TeenReads

1variant on social worker who lives-in at the home where Holly lived

A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd

Shell Talent is fifteen, dreamy, and innocent as few her age are in the United States are today. But then this is Ireland in the early ’80s, and she’s led a relatively protected life by current standards.

Her mother is dead, and her father, poor and alcoholic, is unable to provide what his family needs, either financially or emotionally. Shell, short for Michelle, is responsible for most of the housework after her mother’s death, helping her two younger siblings feed and dress themselves and the same for herself.

As the book begins, a new curate has come to town, to serve under the priest of the parish: a young man, new to the priesthood. The absence of her parents, literal in her mother’s case and figurative in her father’s, combined with the restrictive1 Catholic social environment of Ireland at the time leaves Shell at a loss as to how to deal with maturation. Not understanding the ramifications of what she’s doing–this is about the time the scandals of priests’ behavior with children in their parishes–Shell strikes up a relationship with Father Rose. She thinks little enough of that, as she doesn’t see him that way; rather she and her best friend, Bridie, both have a crush on the altar boy, Declan, who reciprocates.

When Shell’s relationship with altar boy Declan goes beyond mere friendship, she becomes pregnant. She does her best to conceal it, as indeed she must in the Ireland of the time. To heighten Shell’s social problems, her best friend, the prickly Bridie, had fancied herself to be Declan’s girlfriend, insofar as they were allowed to be at that time and in that place, and left Coolbar over the summer, purportedly to help her aunt and uncle with their B&B well away from Coolbar.

Shell’s baby, a girl, is stillborn at Christmas and the three children bury her in a nearby field. It is at this point that the subsequent and worse wave of scandal breaks, when a baby boy is found, dead from exposure, in a nearby cave. Shell’s father confesses to leaving the baby there in order to protect Shell from the repercussions of the death of what he believes to be his child; one night, while in a drunken stupor, he came into the children’s bedroom and mistook Shell fro her mother Moira, though in fact he passed out before anything happened. No one listens to Shell’s protestations of the truth of the matter. Meanwhile, the community of Coolbar believes that Father Rose is the father of Bridie’s child; their acquaintance was noted, and the combination of his offering Shell a ride home and a teasing note of Bridie’s referring to Shell’s infatuation with “him in his robes” clinched the leaping to conclusions.

It is only when Shell manages to convince Father Rose what has happened that the truth comes out. The police open the makeshift grave in the field and find exactly what Shell claims there to be. At first it is believed that the two infants are twins, as who would think there were two separate illicit pregnancies in a town the size of Coolbar? After a forensic examination, it is revealed that the boy is about five weeks older than the girl, but they are related…and Shell realizes that it must be Bridie’s baby.

Shell imagines a possible sequence of events: All the Quinns’ stories were fabrications. Bridie, five weeks farther along than she, was sent away to have her baby and, hitchhiking home to attempt a reconciliation, finds only an empty house–the family had gone away for the Christmas holidays. Believing herself abandoned, Bridie herself left her baby in the cave where Declan most probably spent time with her, and left the village for good.

A somewhat veiled book about a girl simultaneously dreamy and rooted in a reality of poverty, Dowd’s text adds to the layers of concealment; she never spells out what Declan did with the two girls though the two babies give a pretty clear idea of who did what with whom and when. As with Bog Child, it’s an interesting glimpse into another time and place, and one that left me glad to have grown up where I did. What a pity Dowd died before she wrote more books! Overall, I’d probably suggest it to teens whose reading level has advanced beyond, say, Dessen or Marchetta, as Dowd’s writing is a bit more complex and circumlocutory than the majority of the modern American writers.

1as opposed to more liberal versions

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

I apologize to readers for covering two so very different books in adjacent posts; even the titles may cause confusion. The two may share a basic plot–young man sent to prison–but they are different in every other respect. Unlike Alex, Reese did what he was originally arrested for: he stole prescription blanks from a doctor’s office. Unlike Smith’s prison, Myers’ is all too real. And kudos to Myers for writing this necessary sort of book so well!

As the book opens, Reese is being taken to his assignment in the prison’s work release program, a local assisted living facility where he is to provide light janitorial work. While he’s glad to get out of the prison, the suspicion he faces both from staff and residents is discomfiting, to say the least. As a level one prisoner, he has more freedom within the confines of the incarceration than the other kids in juvie; his cell lights go off at nine-thirty rather than eight-thirty, he can go to school (within the center), and go out on work-release. The other kids are in for different reasons–killing a classmate, robbing stores or just refusing to go to school–and gang activity is rife. Reese wants to do what it takes to get out and back to his family, but occasionally gets sucked into the fights, though he knows what that means for his chances of release.

The prison officials give him a second chance when this happens, not because they’re so sure about him but because they want to keep the work-release program going as a window for kids who are to come after Reese, who may themselves be more successful. This needles Reese into somewhat better behavior, as does the simple desire to be out of the facility even if only for a few hours. He is assigned to help Pieter Hooft, one of the residents of the assisted living facility, after the trash has been tidied away, and after a guarded start the two get to know each other a bit better. When Reese mentions another inmate who has little other than fight in him, Mr. Hooft describes his own childhood in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, and a similar boy there. This provides a bit of insight for Reese, but there is some sadness about Mr. Hooft’s own current situation, just as there is with Reese’s: the police are searching for more information about the drug dealing in his neighborhood and pull Reese in on the tip of a prison inmate, who is himself desperate to cut a deal with law enforcement, and the juvenile center’s plea to get Reese released early on good behavior is denied.

Reese’s parents are not together at the time the book is set–it’s not entirely clear whether they were married prior to that. His mother is a drug addict, well-educated enough to speak well when she’s clean. His father drinks, and when drunk, beats Reese. His younger sister, Isis (nicknamed Icy), dreams of a better life for herself and while she understands there will be work involved, believes that dreaming will help bring that future closer.

The book’s reading level is at perhaps a middle-grades skill level, but with a higher interest level. Myers does use strong language on occasion and included some violence, but with reasons for both: this is how the characters speak, and the book is set in a juvenile detention center. Overall, I’d recommend this book highly. (Not the author’s fault I’m not in the target demographic.) He touches on a few of the issues that kids like Reese might face, not least the all too common assumption of “You’re black. You’ve been incarcerated. Therefore you’re permanently bad.”, the aggravation of well-meaning social workers who do not speak his language and do not really understand his situation, and the lack of not just opportunity but lack of ability among his acquaintances to imagine how to go about climbing away from their situation. Not even Reese’s release at the end of his term seems really a happy ending–he faces too many challenges for that–but he is at least determined to give his little sister something better, if not himself; he continues working at the Evergreen facility where he served his work-release program, part-time after school, and uses the money for what he and his sister need, as their mother can provide little more than shelter.