From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—Martin Stokes is awaiting trial at Rikers Island, a New York City correctional facility. His alleged crime is steering: telling an undercover police officer where to buy marijuana in his neighborhood. Riding back to Rikers on a bus after his court date is rescheduled, Martin gets caught between two boys fighting and is cut in the face with a blade. He is assigned to a new unit, and the cut is both the first thing the boys in Sprung #3 notice about him and a metaphor for the indelible mark that prison will leave. In the new unit, Martin attends school for the first time on the Island. The plot is episodic, reflecting both the repetitiveness of daily existence in jail and its instability: one day the house is enjoying the fruits of its commissary visit; the next, the boys are being strip-searched after an apathetic teacher loses his metal chalk holder. Volponi, himself a teacher on Rikers Island for six years, brings to life a believable range of teachers, COs, and inmates and portrays power, hierarchies, and race relations both outside and inside the jail walls with unflinching realism. Martin's narrative voice is frank, conversational, and sometimes angry, and his language, including cursing, is perfectly suited to his character. Physical violence, masturbation, and suicide are all addressed honestly, and teen boys will relate.—Megan Honig, New York Public Library
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Recasting his specialty-press debut novel, Rikers (2002), for a younger audience, Volponi tracks a juvenile offender’s final 17 days in the New York correctional facility. Though arrested just for telling an undercover cop where to buy weed, Martin has spent five months at Rikers waiting for his case to come up. The experience has made him a canny observer of the prison ecosystem, good at keeping his head down and steering clear of gangs, extortion schemes, brutal correction officers, and other hazards . . . mostly. The author draws authentic situations and characters from his six years of teaching at Rikers, and though his scary cautionary tale is less harrowing than Adam Rapp’s Buffalo Tree (1997) or Walter Dean Myers’ Monster (1999), it is nevertheless an absorbing portrait of life in stir. In the end, Martin walks out on plea-bargained probation, bearing both inner and outer scars. Rare is the reader who won’t find his narrative sobering. Grades 8-11. --John Peters