Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Prisoner 88 by Leah Pileggi

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Novel Review
Read: March 10, 2014

What if you were ten years old and thrown into prison with hardened criminals? That's just what happens to Jake Oliver Evans. Inspired by a true account of a prisoner in the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary in 1885, Jake's story is as affecting as it is shocking. Convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years, Jake is taken under the wing of a young guard and the kindly warden, as well as a few fellow prisoners. He is taught to read and given a job tending hogs at a nearby farm. In prison, Jake finds a home he has never had in a place most people are desperate to leave. But when he has to make a choice about right and wrong during an explosive escape attempt, Jake jeopardizes his friendships and his security.

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Inspired the by the real life imprisonment of a minor in America’s Old West, author Leah Pileggi’s Prisoner 88 is a fictional account of ten year old Jake Oliver Evans’ incarceration in the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary in 1885. Confined behind bars, Jake grows up quickly, learning value life lessons from his interactions with fellow inmates and prison staff.  

I have no problem admitting this piece caught me off guard. Aimed for readers in the fifth grade, Prisoner 88 is not something I’d usually pick up so I was ill-prepared when it proved impossible to put down. Simply written from the colloquial perspective of an endearing adolescent, Pileggi creates a poignantly honest and revealing rendering of America’s early prison system within these pages. 

Well-researched and detailed, Prisoner 88 is a pragmatic and engaging tale that will appeal to children and parents alike. 

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"Well, I did. They say I shot somebody, though I don't know that's what I really wanted to do. It just happened." Then I shut up. I didn't feel like talking 'bout it no more with Mr. Nance. I just felt like, I don't know, doing nothing.
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