Rikers High
by Volponi, Paul

Sentenced to jail on New York City's Riker's Island for an inadvertent crime, young Martin is accidentally scarred by an inmate fight and considers confiding in a compassionate teacher when he is required to attend the prison high school.

Paul Volponi is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult novel Black & White. From 1992 to 1998, he taught adolescents on Rikers Island in New York City to read and write. Mr. Volponi worked at a day treatment center like Daytop teaching students and helping them prepare for the GED. Mr. Volponi lives in New York City.

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. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Five months after his arrest, 17-year-old Martin Stokes is still waiting on Riker's Island for his sentencing. He's picked up a few things during that time, including some GED coursework, many observations about the inequality of the justice system and a scar on his cheek from a slashing razor blade. Volponi's punchy, journalistic prose runs the gamut of emotions, propelling readers through relief and triumph before plunging them back into anger and frustration. Martin's inner workings are left largely unexplored, but his internal dialogue enables adequate character development. Using an amalgamation of real-life people and experiences as his basis to create a rich balance of despair and promise, the author provides a satisfying experience for all readers. These pooled personalities also give substance to secondary characters that might otherwise languish in the shadows. This tale of education and life on the Island will keep readers locked to the page. (Fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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