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No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row Hardcover – August 5, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1 edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805079505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805079500
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #615,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—Kuklin tells five stories here; four are about young men who committed murder before they reached the age of 18, and one is the story of a victim's family. Each narrative presents a picture of a troubled youth who did something he later regretted, but something that could not be undone. Within these deftly painted portraits, readers also see individuals who have grown beyond the adolescents who committed the crimes. They see compassion, remorse, and lives wasted within the penal system. Some of the stories tell of poverty and life on the streets, but others are stories of young men with strong, loving families. One even asks readers not to blame his family for his act of violence. Most of the book is written in the words of the men Kuklin interviewed. Their views are compelling; they are our neighbors, our nephews, our friends' children, familiar in many ways, but unknowable in others. Kuklin depicts the penal system as biased against men of color, and any set of statistics about incarceration and death-row conviction rates will back her up. She also emphasizes that being poor is damning once a crime is committed. She finally introduces Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has worked on the cases of two of the interviewees, who talks about his efforts to help those who are on death row. This powerful book should be explored and discussed in high schools all across our country.—Wendy Smith-D'Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In previous books for youth, Kuklin has explored harrowing topics such as AIDS (Fighting Back: What Some People Are Doing about AIDS, 1988) and child slavery (Iqbal Masih and the Crusaders against Child Slavery, 1998). Her latest title, about individuals who received death-row sentences while they were teenagers, is another direct, compassionate, and eye-opening inquiry. The prisoners’ words, drawn from Kuklin’s interview transcripts, form the bulk of the narratives, but Kuklin’s voice frequently cuts in with details about the events leading up to the alleged crime, legal issues, and the prisoners’ backgrounds. Some chapters also include commentary from the prisoners’ lawyers and the prisoners’ own writing (one, Nanon Williams, is a published author). The mix of voices makes for a somewhat chaotic but riveting whole that combines powerfully with the occasional photos and hand-drawn portraits of the subjects. Kuklin presents, with signature frankness, the men’s memories of their young lives; the murders, for which some claim innocence; and the brutal realities (including rape and other acts of extreme violence) of incarcerated life, first on death row and then in maximum-security prison, where most of the prisoners are now held. In unforgettable later chapters, families of prisoners and victims both speak about their grief and loss, and the closing section focuses on a world-renowned anti–death penalty attorney. This isn’t a balanced overview of capital punishment. Instead, it is a searing and provocative account that will touch teens’ most fundamental beliefs and questions about violence, punishment, our legal and prison systems, and human rights. An author’s note and extensive resources conclude. See the adjacent “Story behind the Story” feature, Life on Death Row, for Kuklin’s comments about the project. Grades 10-12. --Gillian Engberg

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Customer Reviews

This book is amazing.
Amy
I has to purchase these books as a part of my daughter's required reading for the summer.
Kamaney Cole
Susan Kuklin's research and writing was superb.
D. Fowler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Maggie Knapp on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The stories in NO CHOIRBOY came from the author's research and her interviews with young men on death row. This book (and the young men who tell their stories) pull no punches on what life is like behind bars. I wasn't sure what to make of the sympathetic tone. All of these young men got a raw deal from the system, but let's face it...they are accused (and convicted, although they may be appealing) of committing or helping commit murder, which is what landed them in the position they are in. The chapters are partitioned into fairly short and very readable sections, which will appeal to the intended audience of young adults. Photographs and drawings sprinkled throughout help visualize these teens as more than "throw away" vicious killers.

I liked the information at the end (glossary, further reading, web sites,notes and index.) The author has obviously taken care with her research, and I can see a number of ways this book might be used in an educational setting.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. Jostes on May 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Riveting! I read it in one day and couldn't wait to recommend it to my high school students. The author, and the prisoners themselves, allows readers to glimpse life on the other side of prison bars that many of us know little about. The stories are poignant, truthful, painful, and insightful. The material is somewhat biased against capital punishment, but it is written in such a manner that the reader is not easily persuaded, but compelled to see such young prisoners as human. The author did a superb job presenting the material and I am a better person for reading it and highly recommend this book!
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Format: Hardcover
Death Row is a place where few men would dare to tread, yet children are headed there in larger numbers than we would dare contemplate. Murder and mayhem inflicted on people for very little reason by teens who are somehow lacking in reasoning faculties lands them in living nightmare facilities. Roy, age sixteen, admitted he was there when a friend was murdered, but he didn't pull the trigger. He tried to warn Kevin that the other boys had planned to kill him, but somehow the words never managed to sink in. The judge sentenced him to death. Instead of being raised by his mother, the inmates of death row would have to substitute for her. When they executed men, the others would "scream in protest." It unnerved him as they would "scream at the top of their lungs." Sixteen-year-old Roy Burgess was living in a war zone.

And there were others. Mark Melvin was fourteen years old. His brother asked for his help, not to do a bit of yard work or help him fix a car, but rather something much more insidious. He wanted him to kill a man. When he shot the man he knew his life was over. "I knew I was going to prison . . . I kept thinking, I just killed a man. And I was just as guilty of killing the wife, too, `cause I was there." Mark also knew he had been had and that he had serious mental issues. He would also soon encounter members of the Crips, the Disciples, the Bloods, El Rubens and fear.

This book was extremely sobering page turner. The voices of these teenagers cry out from the pages of this book, not asking for forgiveness, but for the reader to listen to their hearts, not their spur of the moment actions from the past. Susan Kuklin's research and writing was superb.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John on March 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've not read this book yet, but I'm purchasing it on recommendation of my 15-year-old daughter.

She's in juvenile detention at the moment and came across this book in the library. It's really changing her perspective on where her path has been taking her so far and where it could lead.

If reading this material can help save her life then I'm eternally grateful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amy on December 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is amazing. The subject matter is a surefire draw, but the execution (no pun intended) is perfection. Teens will be drawn to this because of the cover, the title, and the subject matter, and will not be disappointed. They will undoubtedly recommend it to friends, and I'm sure that no matter how many copies I buy for my high school library, I won't be able to keep up with the demand.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Meaghan on August 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A series of interviews of teens who were convicted of murder and sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison. This book is valuable for its vivid descriptions of life behind bars, and it really drove home for me how racist, arbitrary and unfair our criminal justice system, in particular the death penalty, is.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Melissa Sack VINE VOICE on April 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book gives you an inside look at death row --- from the eyes of teenagers. I enjoyed this book because of the unique point of view and the raw feeling behind it, on the downside I found a few curse words and some themes that might be disagreeable in some homes so parents might want to pre-read to approve this book for their children. Overall, this is a great read for those wanting to look into teens in jail or those interesting in the justice system and what happens afterwards.
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By David on April 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Wow - what an eye-opening book. This was a very interesting read; with some really good insight into what convicted teens face in prison. Prison is a very scary place and this book does not dissappoint with its coverage. I was really impressed with the writing; but more so the personal stories and tragedies that were shared by actual prisoners. I walked away from this book with a new appreciation and perspective on teenage capital murder cases. The individuals in this book really come alive as they share what they are dealing with and their childhood upbringing. This is a book where you have to digest and reflect on what you read for a while...I'm still thinking about this.
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