"I find myself moving like a knife, carving my way around people, cutting myself out of their picture and leaving nothing of myself behind but a hole." A gaping hole of misery is what popular young adult author Jack Gantos remembers when he thinks back to 1972, "the bleakest year of my life." Just 20 years old, Gantos was in a medium security prison for his participation in a get-rich-quick drug scam. Scared silly by the violence he saw around him daily, Gantos's only lifeline was a battered copy of The Brothers Karamazov
, which he painstakingly turned into an impromptu journal by scratching his own thoughts into the tiny spaces between the lines. There, he recorded both his fears and his dream of someday writing a book of his own. Before prison, Gantos had penned a scattered myriad of journals, but had never been able to pull them together into a cohesive narrative. It was during his time behind bars that he found himself growing into a focused, diligent writer who eschewed drugs for the bigger high of watching his words fill the hole once and for all.
Gantos, best known for his award-winning Joey Pigza titles, mines darker material here that is as deeply compelling as his lighter fare. Using short, meaty sentences, Gantos manages to write in a way that dismisses the dubious "romance" of prison, drugs, and "life on the edge" without ever sounding didactic or heavy-handed. Older teens will appreciate his candor and sheer willingness to give them the straight story. Vigorously recommended. (Ages 13 and older) --Jennifer Hubert
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From Publishers Weekly
After penning a number of novels for preteens, including the Joey Pigza books and the Jack series, Gantos makes a smooth transition as he addresses an older audience. He uses the same bold honesty found in his fiction to offer a riveting autobiographical account of his teen years and the events may well penetrate the comfort zone of even the most complacent young adults. The memoir begins with the dramatic image of the author as a young convict ("When I look at my face in the photo I see nothing but the pocked mask I was hiding behind"). The book then goes on to provide an in-depth examination of the sensitive and intelligent boy residing behind a tough facade. Inspired by the words and lives of some of his favorite American authors, Gantos sought adventure after leaving high school. He eagerly agreed to help smuggle a shipment of hashish from Florida to New York without giving thought of the possible consequences. Knowing that the narrator is destined to land in jail keeps suspense at a high pitch, but this book's remarkable achievement is the multiple points of view that emerge, as experiences force a fledgling writer to continually revise his perspective of himself and the world around him. The book requires a commitment, as it rambles a bit at times, but it provides much food for thought and fuel for debate. It will leave readers emotionally exhausted and a little wiser. Ages 12-up.
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