by Sarah Crossan
First sentence: “The green phone on the wall in the hall hardly ever rang.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some off-screen sex. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.
Ten years ago, Joe’s older brother, Ed, was imprisoned and sentenced for killing a cop. He says he didn’t do it, but that hasn’t made any difference, since they can’t really afford a good lawyer. Or one at all, really. And now Ed’s time is up, and an execution date has been set. And he wants Joe, who’s 17, to come to Texas and be with him as he faces his execution. Since Joe (and their older sister) is really all Ed’s got.
This is heartbreaking. Seriously. It’s easy to forget with Black Lives Matter (which is important!) that the problem with the U.S. justice system isn’t just race, it’s also money. Crossan picks a poor white family as her characters, one that scrapes by barely making ends meet. A mom who is plagued by drugs and alcohol, kids who aren’t the brightest in school. And it didn’t take much for the cops to intimidate and bully Ed into a “confession” which held up in a jury. It’s heartbreaking. And the take away? If you’re poor, you’re going to end up in prison.
That said, this isn’t a book about the justice system, though that’s a part of it. It’s about forgiveness and family and decisions and choices. And it’s packs a punch. Written in verse, it’s spare but that spareness works to Crossan’s advantage in the book. There’s nothing extra in here that needs to be cut out; it’s straightforward, but told with a lot of heart.
(As an aside: I met her at Children’s Institute, and she’s hilarious. She also has the Irish storytelling genes, keeping us all spellbound with her stories.)