Jack Gantos loves books and loves writing, but as a mischievous, dreamy-eyed teenager, his determination and drive to get to college to study writing take him down a dangerous and criminal path; he agrees to help to smuggle a boat-load of drugs to Manhattan from the Virgin Islands. As a result, he serves his sentence in a federal prison, chronicling his days in a copy of Karamazov.
Gantos, J. (2002). Hole in my life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Girous.
It is a memoir about the author’s decisions that led to him being incarcerated in a federal prison at the age of nineteen for smuggling drugs from St. Croix to Manhattan. Gantos was received the Robert F. Sibert Honor Book and a Printz Honor Book awards for this title.
In the opening and the final chapters, Gantos takes the reader into his experience in a federal prison. He does not shield or protect teen readers from its realities (violence, rape, depression, drug use, etc.), but he doesn’t provide gratuitous and graphic details in excess either. The moments and scenes where he does get graphic are balanced with a sensitivity and profound revelation or reflection on the part of the author, making the overall message of the book that much more effective.
In his first chapter he writes, “Ironically, in spite of all the fear and remorse and self-loathing, being locked up in a prison is where I fully realized I had to change my life for the better, and in one significant way I did” (p. 7). Had he not slowed down and taken us into his world during these pivotal scenes, this message would not be as resounding.
In places the memoir reads like a travelogue, chronicling his days at sea with the cantankerous former British sailor, Hamilton. Gantos also honestly conveys his feelings of limbo, being neither here nor there. As a whole, the memoir is a compelling and sometimes cautionary coming-of-age story, warning of the impetuousness of youth and will appeal to a broad reader base of teens.
Follos, A. (2004). Hole in My Life (Book) (Review of the book Hole in my life). School Library Journal, 50(11), 67.
Hole in My Life would make an excellent selection for a book club for boys. Gantos’ style, humor, and realism might appeal to reluctant teenage boys, especially those with difficult pasts.