by Leslie Connor
Interest level: grades 4 through 8
Reading level: 4.2
4 out of 5 stars
In the call for more diverse books for children, this book delivers. Perry Cook is an 11-year-old boy who has had an unconventional upbringing. Perry has spent all of his life inside the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility, leaving only to attend the nearby public school. I found the setting of the story and the characters to be different from what you usually encounter in children’s literature.
The plot of the story involves the local DA discovering that Perry’s mother has been afforded the special privilege of raising her child while incarcerated, and he determines that it will be better for Perry to be placed into foster care and raised by the DA himself.
Leslie Connor has crafted a story and characters that really make readers think about topics and situations that are tough, and are sometimes things that adults don’t think children can handle. Through a school project, Perry interviews the Blue River residents to find out what brought them to prison. While each story is appropriate for children to read, the inmates also admit to mistakes that people make which sometimes have lasting and horrible consequences.
Perry’s showdown with the DA also makes readers confront the devastation and negative affects on rehabilitation when prisoners are kept from their families. This is a thought-provoking novel that focuses on family and the goodness that is inside all people, no matter who they are or what they have done. Perry and his mother Jessica have an incredible relationship that shines with love and, although very unconventional, has a real and true feel.
I like that Leslie Connor doesn’t underestimate the ability of young readers to tackle weighty and complex issues dealing with life within the prison system. Perry and his mother lend compassion and understanding to an often misunderstood area.