From Publishers Weekly
Though the abuse OÖMcCarthy and Straley suffered as teenagers in the late 1950s and early Ö60s at the Florida School for Boys, a reform school, was horrific, journalist FisherÖs (After the Fire) maudlin tone dilutes their inspirational story. Both OÖMcCarthy and Straley were subjected to brutal beatings in a building known as the White House and heard rumors of other boys who were whipped and never seen again. The 2006 death of a 14-year-old boy in a Florida youth boot camp forced Straley to confront emotions and memories heÖd bottled up for decades. He contacted OÖMcCarthy, now a journalist whoÖd made a documentary on the 1923 Rosewood massacre, and the two men tracked down other survivors of the Florida School for Boys, enlisting the help of former Florida legislator and childrenÖs crusader Gus Barreiro. Fisher is strongest at detailing FloridaÖs lackluster history of treating youthful offenders but when conveying the emotional and often troubled lives of OÖMcCarthy and Straley in and after reform school, she adopts the tone of a cheesy after-school TV special.
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Locked up in the Florida School for Boys in Marianna in the 1950s, Fisher, then 13, suffered unspeakable abuse, including whippings and rape. Coauthor Michael O’McCarthy was 15 when he was sentenced to a year in Marianna: what haunts him is not only the agonizing beatings but also the guilt that he did nothing to save a friend of his who disappeared. Now after more than 50 years of trying to forget, the two survivors have come together through the Internet in a class-action suit with more than 500 former inmates (most convicted for minor offenses) to confront their excruciating memories and call the perpetrators to account. The big issues are always inextricably tied to the personal trauma: How could the guards, ordinary people, inflict such suffering? How could the local community and justice department go along? Yes, the Nazi banality of evil is invoked. But more than abstraction, the searing detail is unforgettable. And the unanswered questions: What about the school cemetery with 32 unmarked graves? Could it still be happening to incarcerated children? With the court hearing pending, this searing exposé will have a wide audience. --Hazel Rochman