Book talkin’: Juvenile Detention

Since my woefully long-ago last post, I have taken on a new job at the Boston Public Library as their Youth Outreach Librarian. While this new position has presented many wonderful opportunities, one of the most interesting – both to me and to all my friends – has been taking books to the juvenile detention facilities around Boston. My first visit was this past Thursday when a teen librarian and I tagged along with my boss, who has been doing these visits for 3 years now, to see how it’s done.

I’ve known about this visit since I started the new job nearly 3 months ago, and it was been a suspenseful wait. My only knowledge of any sort of incarceration has come from episodes of Orange is the New Black, so I pretty much had no idea what to expect. What would the conditions be like? What would the kids think of us? What if they heckled me during a book talk?! In the end the visit – which hit 8 units with 10 books each in 3 locations in 8 hours – was both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. The teens were so amazing and almost heartbreakingly normal, with some sleeping through our presentation and others jumping in to explain a book we brought that they had already read. The environment was more like being in a small, strict high school than a prison. To give credit where it is due, my boss, who has been doing these visits for 3 years now, did 95% of the work since the other two of us were just there to observe. However, I did volunteer to talk about 1 book or so in each unit just to get me warmed up to carrying a bigger load on the next visit.

I went 5 for 6 on books I book talked and the teens actually took, so I’m going to share a few here:

Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters by Gail Giles

Sunny had spent her whole life living in her older sister Jazz’s shadow, so when Jazz runs away to New York to make it as an actress, Sunny is secretly relieved. Then tragedy strikes. Jazz’s apartment building in New York burns down and she is presumed dead. Sunny’s parents don’t cope very well; her father turns to drinking to dull his loss and her mother can barely get out of bed. Then one day a letter arrives from Jazz that she is on her way home. But Jazz is dead. Or is she?

First They Killed My Father by Loung UngImage

In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge, a militant political party, killed one quarter of the population of Cambodia in their 4
years in power. In this memoir, Loung Ung describes her childhood in Cambodia. Her father was a government official, so she and her 7 siblings lead a pretty good and comfortable life by Cambodian standards. However, when the Khmer Rouge took hold of the government, everything changed for her, as for many Cambodians. Considering this book’s title, it’s not giving away too much to tell you that her father was taken and killed. The rest of Loung’s family was taken prisoner; she was separated from them and taken to be trained as a child soldier. If you want to know if Loung ever saw her family again and how she survived, read First They Killed My Father.

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bobby is a teen living in New York City and he tells his story in chapters alternating between his past with his pregnant girlfriend Nia and his present as a single dad to baby Feather. Life used to be so simple when Bobby had time to run around getting into trouble with his friends and hanging out with Nia at the diner. Now he has to worry about finishing school, traveling across town between his divorced parents’ homes, finding a babysitter, and spending time with Feather. All Bobby really wants is some peace and to be a good father. But one question looms over the entire story – where’s Nia?

ImageThe Buffalo Tree by Adam Rapp

Adam Rapp writes young adult books that are gritty and at times hard to read they are so brutal. In The Buffalo Tree 12-year-old Sura is serving a 6-month sentence in juvie for cribbin’ hoodies – aka stealing hood ornaments, a popular crime in the 90s. Sura’s best friend in juvie is his roommate Coly Jo, a sad sack of a kid serving time for sneaking into people’s houses to watch them sleep. Sura watches and at times tries to defend Coly Jo from the bullying of other inmates, the punishment from the uncaring juvie staff, and Coly Jo’s own criticism. But as he watches things get worse for Coly Jo who sinks deeper into depression, Sura questions whether he’ll be able to escape juvie with his own spirit and sanity in tact, let alone that of his best friend.

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