In an environment where kindness equals weakness, how do those who care survive?
From the book
White-clad paramedics run alongside the gurney, guiding me through the electric gates of the facility and across the parking lot, where a helicopter waits. They are careful even though they're in a hurry, and I want to thank them, maybe tell them not to go to so much trouble for me, because I feel fine despite what has just happened. Also, it's been a long time since anyone has worried about me, and truth be told, it's a little embarrassing. One of the men puts his hand on mine and says, "Hang in there, buddy. You're going to make it. I swear you're going to be okay."
I want to say something to reassure him, but I can't talk. My breathing is thin and shallow, and it's all I can do to keep my eyes open and look at the helicopter blades hanging down at their tips, all wobbly and half-assed. I wonder how something so fragile-looking can fly, but then the rotor powers up and the blades become a cyclone beating down the air and flattening me to the gurney. The paramedics fold up the legs of the gurney and slide me into the helicopter.
"Just hold on, buddy," the guy says again. I try to smile to let him know I'm okay, but my face muscles don't work. I can move my eyes, though, and I look out the windows, which are all around. A tornado of dirt and leaves swirls outside, twigs and bugs and other dried-up things riding the currents of air.
And I'm excited, because for the first time I am flying.
In the beginning there is so much walking that I have holes in my shoes. Half the time I don't even know where I'm going or why. One more block, my body says, and the legs just carry out their orders, striding over cracked sidewalks, patches of trampled spring grass, and the occasional globe of dandelion fluff. These I kick sharply, trying to send each seed on its way so that it might float and drift and, eventually, find a nice place to live. It doesn't seem like such a stupid idea, until I see all the perfect lawns and realize I'm making a mess, adding ten or twenty more yellow flowers to be dug up and thrown away. So I quicken my pace and stop looking down.
Instead I watch the little kids playing outside the shingled two-story houses: boys and girls riding scooters and Big Wheels in the driveways, running around with dogs in fenced backyards. The kids shriek and laugh and chase each other with sticks. What would it be like to live that way, with a watchful German shepherd, a bicycle, and friends? To sprawl on an L-shaped couch in front of the bluish glow of a big-screen TV, a mother saying, "I'm going to the kitchen. How about some soda and a big bowl of popcorn?" Or maybe she would just touch the top of my head as a kind of gesture, a silent everyday way of saying, "Hey, kid, I love you."
Of course, all this thinking is crazy, because I don't live in one of those houses and never will. Even the little kids seem to understand this, because they stop playing and stand shoulder to shoulder, staring at me with serious little-kid faces, the kinds that show they recognize that something around them is wrong. Not dangerous, but different. Out of place. A friendless fifteen-year-old kid with nowhere to go. But as soon as I pass, they return to their games, shrieking and laughing and chasing each other around. They roll madly up and down the driveway on their Big Wheels, pebbles rattling inside cracked plastic mags, the unmistakable sound of things that are right and good. The sound of things that belong. I walk even faster and get the hell out of there.
It's two o'clock on a Sunday, and I head over to Dirk's Gym to see my big brother, Louis, who is nineteen and has his own apartment. Louis is only four years older than me, but he's pretty much an adult....
About the Author-
SHAWN GOODMAN is a writer and a school psychologist. His experiences working in several New York State juvenile detention facilities inspired him to write. He has been an outspoken advocate for juvenile justice reform and has written and lectured on issues related to special education, foster care, and literacy. Shawn lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife and children. Visit him at ShawnGoodman.com.
April 15, 2013
In his second novel set in a juvenile detention center, Goodman (Something Like Hope) introduces 15-year-old James, who is caught running drugs for his older brother and sentenced to a year in juvie. Despite a rough initiation to the program, James—inspired by books recommended to him by his English teacher—does his best to stay out of trouble; however, his emotional and physical strength are tested time and again by corrupt, belligerent guards and boys who pressure him into joining a gang. Tension builds as James’s belief in himself and a better future begins to waver, and he helps a peer get revenge on a brutish guard, a choice that has dangerous repercussions. Goodman, who has worked inside such facilities himself, expresses harsh criticism of the juvenile justice system while telling a deeply personal story of an abused teen’s struggles to free himself from the constraints preventing him from reaching his goals. James’s expanding perception of the world inside and outside of the facility gives insight into the perpetuation of teen violence. Ages 14–up. Agent: Seth Fishman, the Gernert Company.
April 1, 2013
A naive young man does his best to survive a brutal stay in juvie in this story that is reminiscent of the work of E.R. Frank and Walter Dean Myers. Fifteen-year-old James is sent to the Thomas C. Morton Jr. Residential Center in upstate New York after he is caught dealing drugs for his older brother, Louis. There, he tries to escape the notice of the ruthless guards and the street-gang recruiters by working out and keeping to himself. Despite his abusive upbringing, James is a sensitive teen who devours the books recommended by his English teacher, Mr. Pfeffer, and dreams of earning his neglectful mother's love. Encouraged by a few kind staff members and Mr. Pfeffer's letters, James tries to stay positive but is slowly drawn into the Center's cycle of violence when he is targeted for being friends with an openly gay inmate named Freddie. When a sadistic guard attacks Freddie, James is forced to prove that his kindness is not weakness, with tragic results. Goodman's background as a school psychologist is evident in his deeply felt characters and well-realized setting. Readers who are not familiar with the often-harsh conditions of the juvenile justice system will receive a realistic and compelling examination of adolescent life behind bars in this second novel from the author of Something Like Hope (2011). (Fiction. 14 & up)
COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Starred review from June 1, 2013
Gr 8 Up-In this gut-wrenching narrative of loneliness and anger, disillusion and hope, 15-year-old James desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged older brother, Louis, and agrees to deliver drugs to several clients. When he is arrested, he is abandoned by Louis and sent to a juvenile detention facility where intimidation, abuse, and violence among guards and inmates are daily occurrences. As James struggles to find his own voice and reconcile his feelings about his negligent brother and mother, he begins to realize that everyone can make choices about how they live and treat others. James is comforted by letters from a favorite English teacher, reading Jack London's The Sea Wolf, and the encouragement of a guard who teaches him to lift weights. In a climactic confrontation, he sheds his passive demeanor and attacks a cruel guard who is relentlessly punishing a gay inmate friend. In retaliation, James is brutally beaten by two guards. The unexpected intervention of a staff nurse brings paramedics who airlift James to a hospital and to a "second chance." Despite the harsh, stark circumstances of his broken home and the upstate New York detention center, James becomes more than a survivor. His nonaggressive disposition provokes contempt but enables him to see more clearly vulnerabilities and injustices around him. Like Shavonne in Goodman's Something Like Hope (Delacorte, 2010), James must set his own course in life and find supportive adults. Gripping action, gritty dialogue, vivid characters, and palpable tension permeate the brief chapters of James's powerful, honest, compelling narrative.-Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC
Copyright 2013 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Jordan Sonnenblick, the author of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
"Shawn Goodman takes us inside the gritty world of our juvenile justice system with the authority of an expert, the unsparing eye of a social reformer, and the verve of a master storyteller."
- Paul Volponi, author of The Final Four "A gripping story of a boy's climb to manhood on his own terms"
- Todd Strasser, author of Give a Boy a Gun "The main character, James, is an authentic young man with real feelings and fears, and the reader will be seized by his plight and determination not only to survive, but to better himself."
- Paul Griffin, author of The Orange Houses "Shawn Goodman leaves his huge heart on every page of this brave and truly beautiful novel. Kindness for Weakness is a daring dazzling leap into the dark passage that is the journey to manhood."
PublisherRandom House Children's Books
Kindle BookRelease date:
OverDrive ReadRelease date:
EPUB eBookRelease date:
Digital Rights Information+
- Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.