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on March 31, 2002
I first need to confess that I know Jack Gantos and have been a fan of his writing for more than 20 years. This made it particularly difficult to read a book about a painful period in his life. However, this is Jack's best writing and is a story that many teenagers (who believe themselves to be invincible) need to read. It is also first and foremost a compelling story that will be hard for anyone to stop reading. Even knowing that all ends well (Jack is an award-winning, highly successful writer), the suspense remains high. It is a harsh tale, and the descriptions of prison life are brutal (as they should be) but ultimately it is a story of a life redeemed. Highly recommended!
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on March 21, 2002
I am a children's librarian who read this book and could hardly put it down. I read my (non children's librarian) husband a couple of paragraphs, and he grabbed it the second I was done. He inhaled it and gave it to his best friend, who does not read children's books. The best friend loved it and cannot understand why it is called a young adult novel. He thinks it is great reading for everyone!
A wonderful read by an intriguing, and obviously stubborn and incredibly gifted human being.
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on December 13, 2002
All writers have pasts, before they write the books for which they become known & respected. Before Jack Gantos wrote his children's books (which, by the way, are brilliant, energetic & absorbing reads!) he had to get some experience in living.
Not many of us would have chosen the fork in the road which Jack Gantos took, faced with a desperate need for cash for college where he hoped to become "a writer." As a naive smuggler, his career didn't last long. It is, however, out of that struggle & ultimate confinement in prison, that the writer I so enjoy, grew, with his unique, taut & restless language.
A super memoir of a youth well spent on ill-gotten gains. Of the chances he got to take other forks in the road on his way to redemption. He paid his dues, did his work, & then got on with his life as a writer.
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on March 13, 2006
This book is so wonderfully written. As others have said, it is an unflinching self-examination. Gantos freely acknowledges his own shortcomings. Better still, he does not self-aggrandize his transition from drifting slacker to convict to living the life he imagined for himself. And he does another rare thing: he communicates the real joy he has found in life without romanticizing or going over the top.

Gantos also doesn't flinch from the reality of his prison life. Again without sensationalizing, Gantos includes the topics of prison homosexuality, rape, and violence. These topics occupy a very small percentage of the account, but make your reading/buying choice accordingly if you have a zero tolerance approach, can't skip a few paragraphs, etc.

I haven't read any of Gantos' fiction, but this made me want to.
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on August 2, 2014
This book should be required reading for all at-risk boys in their teens. I heard Jack Gantos speak at a conference and immediately went out to buy this book. He made some poor choices in his youth and this book describes those choices.
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on February 18, 2014
YA literature is full of cautionary tales, the fictional stories that say "don't do this behavior."

So many of them are abominably written.

Jack Gantos is no ordinary writer, and this is no ordinary tale of drugs and redemption.

First of all, it's true, or as true as any autobiography can be expected to be. Jack really had the troubled childhood, dive into substance abuse, prison time, and life-changing moments.

Second, he takes responsibility for when he made a bad decision (the thing that got him in prison for one, and trying to BS the parole board for another), and is grateful for his good luck (as when an offhand remark leads to his getting the primo prison job).

Gantos is the author of the wonderful, beautiful Rotten Ralph books, and he has enough success at last to let us know that our popular children's author did not live a blameless life.

There are so many cringe-inducing moments, like when the librarian shrugs off the lost or damaged books that Gantos wants to read, or when he loses, forever, his diary. The redemption of making himself into a writer is all the better for the poingancy that precedes it.

A number of reviewers have said this is not for young people, but I disagree. Jack Gantos lived this life starting at the age of his target audience. And there are many young people making choices right now that are similar to his. Why would we deny them the right to read about things they may very well be experiencing--or may be able to avoid?

Great book.
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on April 10, 2011
First off, I would like to say that I thought this book was excellent. I enjoyed reading it very much. Just to give you some background info on myself, I am 16 and do not read often. I only read when we are assigned a book in class, and I usually end up reading only part of it. Books are generally dull to me, but this one was different. When we were assigned this book in class, I figured I would read for a little bit and then put it down, but when I started reading I couldn't stop flipping page after page of the book. That night I was immediately dragged into the story. The next day I was very ahead of the class because I was so captivated in the book.

This intelligently written and witty book is a story about a boy who becomes a man through a crazy adventure. You feel immersed in his journey as he smuggles 2000 pounds of hash from St. Croix, a small island in the Virgin Islands, to New Jersey with a man who is always naked and has a gun. So he is pretty much crazy, and Jack is stuck on a boat with him in the middle of the ocean. This is just one of the many happenings in the book that puts you on the edge of your seat and makes you want to keep reading.
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on October 5, 2005
Whole In My Life

By Jack Gantos

In Jack Gantos's memoir, Whole In My Life, he describes how he is an average student and an avid reader and wants to become a writer. Caught up in trying to earn money for college, Gantos makes huge mistakes by taking drugs and alcohol and smuggling drugs. I chose this book because it looked like an interesting story. The most important parts of the book are Gantos wanting to become a writer by reading as much as he could, smuggling drugs, and how he turns himself around in prison. As a result of these events, Gantos learns from his mistakes and becomes a better person and a better writer.

One of the most important themes in this memoir is that Gantos is very fond of reading books and wants to become a writer, but can't because of his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Gantos always has a stack of books next to him wherever he goes. Gantos also has dreams of becoming a writer and always keeps a daily journal but can't quite organize it into a story. "I could write stuff down all day, but I could never seem to organize it into anything worth reading (pg.21)." This is an important event because Gantos' inability to organize his thoughts prevents him from becoming a real writer. He realizes when he is in prison that his drug and alcohol abuse is the reason he can't organize his thoughts and become a writer.

One of the biggest mistakes in Gantos's life was smuggling drugs. I think that Gantos made a poor decision just based on the money that was in it for him. "All I heard was the number-ten thousand dollars, cash. This was the jackpot. The answer I was looking for. My exit from St. Croix and my entrance into whatever good school would have me (pg.69.)." I think that Gantos was so caught up in the money that he didn't assess any of the risks that were involved in smuggling the drugs from St. Croix to New York. As a result of his drug smuggling, Gantos ends up in prison and his dreams of becoming a writer are temporarily dashed.

While in prison Gantos realizes that he has to somehow turn his life around. When Gantos is in prison he is not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Gantos is also writing a lot more than usual. From that point on Gantos writes about

his drug smuggling and what he observes in prison. "While in prison, it occurred to me that when I lived at Davy's I could never write about something as unsettling as what I had seen in the hole because when I felt something so intense I jumped up and ran to a bar where I had one drink after another poured into me until I was so numb that I couldn't pour anything back onto paper (pg.185)." This is so important to the author because he realizes that not being under the influence really helps him become a writer.

During this memoir Jack Gantos learns a lot about himself. Gantos learns that he is a good writer but was held back by his weaknesses. He used drugs and alcohol as a crutch when he wasn't feeling good about himself and tried to take the easy way out by getting "quick money" for smuggling drugs. In the end, Gantos realizes that there is no easy way out and that he must work honestly and hard to achieve his dreams.
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on September 14, 2014
The fast pace, blunt language and unflinching view of himself make the book both easy and hard to read. It's a quick page turner but it doesn't let you go without giving you a sense of what it's like to loose your way as a young man in the late 60's / early 70's, make mistakes, pay the price and come out the other side. It feels honest and sincere and is worth the read.
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on August 13, 2013
I am still reading, but can't put the book down. I relate to him , for some reason. I had never heard of him and saw a link to this book on a page where I had purchased another book and so glad I did. Jack rules!
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