Rikers High

246p. 978-0-67001-107-0.
Gr 8-Up Martin Stokes is awaiting trial at Rikers Island, a New York City correctional facility. His alleged crime is steering: telling an undercover police officer where to buy marijuana in his neighborhood. Riding back to Rikers on a bus after his court date is rescheduled, Martin gets caught between two boys fighting and is cut in the face with a blade. He is assigned to a new unit, and the cut is both the first thing the boys in Sprung #3 notice about him and a metaphor for the indelible mark that prison will leave. In the new unit, Martin attends school for the first time on the Island. The plot is episodic, reflecting both the repetitiveness of daily existence in jail and its instability: one day the house is enjoying the fruits of its commissary visit; the next, the boys are being strip-searched after an apathetic teacher loses his metal chalk holder. Volponi, himself a teacher on Rikers Island for six years, brings to life a believable range of teachers, COs, and inmates and portrays power, hierarchies, and race relations both outside and inside the jail walls with unflinching realism. Martin's narrative voice is frank, conversational, and sometimes angry, and his language, including cursing, is perfectly suited to his character. Physical violence, masturbation, and suicide are all addressed honestly, and teen boys will relate."Megan Honig, New York Public Library" Copyright 2010 Media Source Inc.
His court date delayed again, Martin returns to Rikers Island to wait out his time among other juvenile inmates. There he gets caught in a melee that leaves his face scarred. Required to attend school, Martin meets a teacher who helps turn his life around and quells his desire for revenge. Martin's compelling voice drives this story to its predictable yet satisfying conclusion.
The premise is engaging. Readers will be eager to find out how high school on Rikers Island is different from and similar to their own. The novel is informed by firsthand experience; Paul Volponi taught high school to juvenile offenders on Rikers Island. Martin is an observant narrator, capturing the compelling details of his experience. The countdown to Martin’s release provides drama as his clashes with the in-house gang leader ratchet up the tension.

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