A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kindness for Weakness starkly describes the cruel life inside a boys' prison in upstate New York, as witnessed by the psychologist-author while working in a juvenile "residential center." There's quite a bit of violence (a guard deliberately breaks a boy's arm, a boy nearly chokes another boy to death, a boy hangs himself), and strong language ("f--k-up," "a--hole," "s--t," "bitch," "p---y"). One character is frank about his sexual orientation, and gay and straight sex is referred to but not explicitly described. James is convicted for running crystal meth, and there are frequent references to pot/weed, but no descriptions of drug-taking. Young readers will root for 15-year-old James, who enters the prison skinny and naive and learns to hold his own. But the tone is pessimistic: The author gives none of the characters, including the guards, much chance of self-fulfillment. He concludes, "In the face of violence, showing kindness requires tremendous strength and is often punished severely."
What's the story?
Fifteen-year-old James is abandoned by his parents and his adored older brother, who sets him up to run crystal meth. In boys' prison in upstate New York, James learns to grow up fast, anticipating a life-and-death battle with another prisoner, Antwon. James lifts weights and finds a friend who shows him the ropes, but more important, looks for life lessons in the books that his high school English teacher sends him. James is the only character who grows in self-esteem, but the author withholds sentimental optimism about James' future.
Is it any good?
Shawn Goodman, a school psychologist who worked in a juvenile "residential center," deserves credit for writing a blunt account of life within it in KINDNESS FOR WEAKNESS. The unappealing routines, the despicable talk, the imminent and explosive violence are all here, and so is the fact that almost no one stands a good chance of self-fulfillment. This worthy author writes in the postscript, "... instead of apologizing for the darkness of this story, I will simply thank you for reading, and thinking, and feeling."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about male role models. Where does a boy who doesn't know his father turn for guidance into manhood?
Mr. Pike, one of the prison guards, has been trying for a long time to earn his pilot's license. Will he make it? Why would the author include that detail?
If you knew you had to fight for your life, how would you prepare?
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