- The Free by Lauren McLaughlin
ISBN 978-1-61695-731-5 $18.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 8-10
Sixteen-year-old Isaac is in a special juvenile detention program, where he has to write out his life story and act it out with the group as a form of rehab. He believes that after a month’s time he’ll be released and he can go back to boosting cars under the direction of his shop teacher and protecting his little sister, who suffers under their abusive prostitute mother. Nothing goes as planned, however, with Isaac confronting painful memories in the group and finding a niche as “Poetry and Shit” editor on the facility newsletter, the Free—and discovering that he’ll have to [End Page 274] spend more time than he realized inside. The story is cinematically gritty, sort of a cross between Boys Town and Dead Poets Society, with lots of enjoyably dramatic breakthroughs in the therapy group and convincing details about racial and personal dynamics in detention (mixed-race Isaac has no obvious crew). The contrivances move from the pleasantly cheesy to the completely implausible, however, as the core story gets buried under new plot points, the book loses focus, and the unbelievably rosy ending betrays the book’s credible hard edge. There is surprisingly little YA about kids in juvie, however, and readers may appreciate Isaac’s take on one more tough situation in his tough life.