Thursday, June 30, 2011

RIKERS HIGH by Paul Volponi

Author Paul Volponi's real-life experience working with kids behind bars is the inspiration for RIKERS HIGH.  His work teaching adolescent inmates to read and write help give this novel a realistic tone that will speak to teen as well as adult readers.

Martin is weeks away from being released from Rikers Island.  He earned his time there for giving an undercover cop information about where to buy drugs.  Even though he viewed it as an honest mistake, he was in handcuffs outside his front door before his mother had time to get out the door to ask questions.

As Martin tells his story, readers learn about life in the Rikers Island prison system.  After spending some of his time in the adult population, Martin is moved to Sprung #3 which houses juvenile offenders.  These young inmates attend school and hopefully spend their time in more productive activities than the older prisoners, but life is still rough and they face daily challenges from uncooperative fellow prisoners and corrupt corrections officers.

Martin describes the violence, the "business" some inmates conduct to profit from their fellow prisoners, the mistreatment at the hands of those in charge, and the homesickness and worry about family members on the outside.  All this combines to create a tense, stressful environment where young men are still expected to learn in the classroom and maintain control of raging emotions.

Martin tries to keep his nose clean and focus on his release date, but he knows one wrong move or bad decision could end with a longer sentence and possibly a move back to the adult population.  Trouble with his lawyer and a vicious attack that leaves him with a disfiguring facial scar make staying focused a real challenge.  Martin's determination to return to his family and make the needed changes in his life makes his a truly inspiring story.

Paul Volponi has a real following among teen readers, and when they learn that RIKERS HIGH has a real-life connection to Volponi's own experience, it is sure to be a popular read.

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