Monday, July 1, 2013
Kindness for Weakness
by Shawn Goodman
261 pages, YA
Delacorte Press, 2013
With some stories, the best way to tell the truth is at a slant. That's what Shawn Goodman does in his newest book. Kindness for Weakness is a gritty coming of age novel that exposes daily life inside a juvenile detention facility in upstate New York.
James, the 15-year-old protagonist, is as authentic a character as they come: a kid wanting to connect with his older brother, wishing he could protect his mother from abusive relationships, and seeking a path to manhood. He's got a good relationship with his English teacher, a man who lends him Jack London's tale of the Sea Wolf.
It's bad judgement that gets James arrested, and a comedy of errors that sends him into a juvenile justice system saturated with institutionalized cruelty. Through it all he continues reading his book, contemplating how the life of the main character parallels his own life. He befriends a fellow inmate only to be warned that "It's OK to have friends on the outside, but not in here."
Ideally, the juvenile justice system serves to educate and help adolescents make a positive change in their lives. In James' world, the facility is a place where the tiniest infraction is met with a beating - or worse. Kids end up in the infirmary, with broken arms, and worse.
This is a story with no happy endings - a story that you hope is not true but know, deep in your gut, that it is.
This is part of the Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Check out more great reading here. Review copy from publisher.