Jack Gantos, bestselling author of the Joey Pigza books, had a peripatetic childhood around the US and the Caribbean. At 18 years old, he was doing a dead-end job on a Caribbean island, looking for adventure and a way to fund himself through university. When he was offered $10,000 to sail a boatload of drugs to New York, he jumped at it. It resulted in a year in a federal prison - and a lot of thinking time. In prison, Jack discovered the library where he was able to indulge his passion for literature and continue to write the journal he'd started in childhood. Denied a diary of his own by prison regulations, he wrote his notes in a tiny hand between the lines of a Russian novel. Becoming ever more determined to get to university, Jack discovered that he didn't have to let one bad choice map out the course of the rest of his life. There are such things as second chances. Paroled after a year in order to go directly to college to study writing, Jack had his first children's book published within two years of being released.
"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