Hole in My Life–Jack Gantos (2002)

Gantos, Jack.  Hole in My Life.  Square Fish, 2002.  200p.  Grades 6-12.  Non-fiction/Memoir.

The true story of author Jack Gantos’ journey from aspiring young writer and high school student to drug smuggler and convicted felon, this gripping memoir deals honestly with the struggle of finding one’s true identity, the horrifying ease with which one can slip into crime, the realities of prison life, and the redemption Gantos found in both his own writing and great writers of the past.  Told in a blunt tone and with frequent references to literature and pop culture, Hole in My Life provides readers with a unique look at one teen’s descent to rock bottom and his subsequent climb to success

Thoughts   If I had to boil what this book was for me into one word, it would be sticky.  Sticky because it deals with so many difficult topics (drugs, prison, the justice system, the aimlessness many teens feel) and doesn’t really come to a lot of hard and fast conclusions about these topics.  Sticky because sometimes the line between good and bad seems so vague—both for Gantos and for the reader.  But mostly, sticky because I think this book will stay with me for a very long time; I won’t forget Gantos’ journey or his experiences, and I will recommend this book to many, many people.

There was a lot I loved about this book—its honesty, its unflinching look at a reality I am familiar with (my father worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 35 years in their parole division) but have no actual experience of, and its focus on the books that not only shaped Gantos’ life but saved it in some ways as well.  I think it took quite a bit of courage for Gantos to write this memoir given his career as a children’s author, and I really appreciate the unflinchingly honest approach he takes.  It is clear that he spent much time reflecting on this period in his life and that he sees the value in sharing his story with the public, rather than obscuring it as so many others would.  Parts of Hole in My Life are difficult to read and, I imagine, were difficult to write as well.  The final third of the book that takes place in the federal prison stood out to me in particular because we don’t often get to see into that world from the perspective of a prison.  Much is written from the outside about prison life, but a true recounting from prisoners (especially youth offenders) is rare.  I especially liked this part because I grew up hearing about the parole and rehabilitation process from my father, and I was fascinated to read about it from the inmate’s point of view.  The influence of books on Gantos’ life and the wisdom he found in them also really spoke to me—not just because I feel similarly but also because I think that sometimes people associate all “at-risk youth” with a lack of intellectual curiosity or ability and this book (and my personal experiences with such teens) proves that is not always the case.

I found Hole in My Life to be enormously engaging and highly readable.  It has the sophistication and stylistic nuances sought out by advanced readers, but it also has action, plot twists, and authenticity to lure in more reluctant readers.  I think it would be a great book for teachers to use in incorporating more non-fiction into their classrooms, and it would be really appealing to readers of many different age, ability, and interest levels.  Also, I met Jack Gantos at TLA, and he was so awesome and funny.  And NICE.

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