Uninterrupted View of the Sky
by Crowder, Melanie

In Bolivia in 1999, when their father is unjustly arrested and their mother leaves, Francisco, seventeen, and his sister Pilar, eight, must move to the dirty, dehumanizing, and corrupt prison.

Melanie Crowder (www.melaniecrowder.net) is the author of National Jewish Book Award finalist and ILA Notable Book for a Global Society Audacity, as well as A Nearer Moon and Parched. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Melanie lives with her family on Colorado’s Front Range where she has worked as an educator for more than a decade. You can follow her on Twitter @MelanieACrowder.

In Bolivia, Francisco is itching to finish high school, but all his plans come to an abrupt halt when his indigenous father is arrested on false charges, and he and his little sister are forced to live in the cramped, filthy prison with him. Though they can leave for school, every day is a struggle to scrounge up enough money for food, a mattress, and a cell, all while protecting themselves against dangerous criminals in the prison. Informed by Crowder's experience in South America in the late 1990s, this trenchant novel explores the result of a corrupt Bolivian law enacted as part of the U.S. war on drugs, which disproportionately affected poor, uneducated, and indigenous populations. Francisco narrates the tale, and his anguish over the conditions in the prison and his panic over protecting both his father and sister come through in both his visceral language and the poems he writes for a school project. This hard-hitting, ultimately hopeful story will open readers' eyes to a lesser-known historical moment and the far-reaching implications of U.S. policy. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Francisco, a middle-class Bolivian high school senior, and his younger sister must move into a dangerous prison after their indigenous father is wrongfully arrested. Inspired by real events, according to an author's note, Francisco's tale is set in 1999 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The 17-year-old son of a light-skinned, college-educated mestiza and an indigenous taxi-driver father, Francisco is smart but hot-tempered. He knows he's privileged enough to go to high school and play pick-up soccer with friends instead of having to work, but he's also painfully aware that's he's too short and dark (unlike his fair Mamá and 12-year-old sister, Pilar) to be taken seriously by Bolivia's white elites, who don't see beyond his dark skin and Aymara face. Francisco's life takes an irreversible turn when Papá is falsely arrested under "the 1008," a draconian drug law. An unimaginable betrayal leaves Francisco and Pilar no choice but to live in San Sebastián prison, which permit s inmates' spouses and underage children to reside inside. Readers will feel utterly invested in Francisco's various challenges: protecting his sister from prying eyes; worrying about his gentle, poetic father in a tough, soul-sucking place; finishing high school; and figuring out whether to take Pilar to their peasant grandparents' Andean village on the Altiplano (high plains). There's also a sweet, slow-burning romance between Francisco and a quiet young woman with a hidden ferocity that terrifies, enthralls, and inspires him to write Neruda-esque poetry. A riveting, Dickensian tale set in 1990s Bolivia. (glossary, selected sources) (Historical fiction. 12-17) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

The carved wooden doors leading into the prison are wide open, and there’s no line to get in, so I go straight up to the guard in the green jacket sitting behind a white plastic table. I didn’t see this one yesterday.

“Name?” the guard asks.

“Francisco Quispe Vargas.”

“Sign here.”

I do, and he watches me the whole time. What—does he think I’m sneaking drugs in here or something? I’m not that stupid.

He waves me past, but I can feel his eyes on my back the whole way through the courtyard. I can’t get used to having guards with guns around all the time, just looking for a reason to bust me. It’s got me constantly looking over my shoulder, like I’m being hunted or something.

When I come back through the prison gate, Papá and Pilar are waiting for me. Pilar’s got this look on her face that’s angry and hurt and . . . I shake my head, and there it goes—any hope she was hanging on to, gone.

I sit beside my father and sister on the concrete and watch the prisoners milling around the courtyard.

I guess this is home now.

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