A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a book about teens on death row, told in their own words. While not overtly violent or offensive, it tackles difficult subjects and parents should be ready to discuss not only the crimes that landed these teens in jail, but also the dangers of living within the prison population, the impact of crimes on the families of the accused and families of the victims, and the consequences of an imperfect justice system. Though she isn't pushing for policy or harping on the morality of the justice system, the author is coming from an anti-death penalty point of view. Teens may feel sympathetic toward the criminals on death row (and be surprised that their backgrounds are not all desperate and impoverished).
What's the story?
Author Susan Kuklin brings readers an intense, raw collection of interviews with teens on death row or in prison for life, letting them tell their stories in their own words. She includes one interview with the family of an executed prisoner. Readers hear about the crimes, the punishment, and prison life. Shocking life and death struggles are exposed as teens deal with a world of violence. Kuklin also explores the justice system and the inherent inequalities therein.
Is it any good?
This intense and, at times, heartbreaking, book is important because it gives readers an honest look at juvenile crime and death row. It should be read by teens from every walk of life because it has lessons beyond the obvious "stay out of trouble." This is a book parents may want to read along with their kids and have meaningful discussions on issues ranging from justice and poverty, to the glorification of prison culture in the media.
By allowing the interview subjects to tell their own story, Kuklin keeps the focus on the doubt and glimmers of hope that the teens, their families, or their lawyers have for the future. At the end of one interview, Roy, who was originally sentenced to die by electrocution when he was 16, talks of wanting to see the beach and later asks hopefully "I mean, if I get out someday, do you think I can make it in society?" While it's apparent that Kuklin is against the death penalty, there isn't any of policy-pushing or morality-thumping.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the author's message here. What do you think she was trying to say? Why did she decide to let the teens tell their stories in their own words?
How does reading a non-fiction book like this one differ from reading a fictional account of teen murderers? Is it more intense to deal with the details knowing they're real?
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