Hole in My Life is deep, dark

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos; published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2002; 200 pages.

I know Jack Gantos from his Joey Pigza and Rotten Ralph books.  I never knew more about him.  Gantos’ autobiography Hole in My Life is a stunning coming-of-age story.  It is a cautionary tale told with heartbreak and soul-searching and exquisite detail.  As a child, Gantos’ family moved frequently as his father searched for work.  When a construction job in Puerto Rico didn’t work out as expected, Jack returned to his former Florida high school to finish his senior year.  Alone.  And a teenager.  He was responsible and made commendable decisions.  After graduation, he rejoined his family, now trying the construction trade in the Virgin Islands.  Once again, the family business faced set backs, this time from political upheaval.  Rik, a drug smuggler, hires Jack and his dad to build a crate in which he can hide a stash of hash he is shipping back to the States.  Rik then introduces Jack to Hamilton, Rik’s British smuggling partner, who needs a deckhand to help him run more than 500 pounds of hash to New York City.  Of course, they are caught, Jack is indicted and serves a term in a federal penitentiary.  His stories of life in the pen and how he struggles to keep his penchant for writing alive, while keeping himself safe, is riveting.  In the end, we learn that Jack found his muse and a purpose for his life out of the wreckage that one wrong choice created. 

Gantos defines this as a book “about mistakes and redemption.”  Certainly, that is one way to describe his biography.  I look at it as “Scared Straight” for literate teens.  Gantos’ style is conversational yet lyrical.  Descriptions of the horrors of dope peddling and life in prison are chilling.  Most teens still feel immortal, nothing bad could possibly happen to them, especially not getting caught doing something as simple as sailing a boat…smuggling dope.  Gantos felt the same way, and effectively expresses this.  He also poignantly tells the story of the consequences of illegal behavior, even just one bad choice can cost you nearly everything you have and destroy everything you are.  I think teens will be interested in the adventure and to see how Gantos not only survived this worst-case scenario but also created a future for himself.

As a sidebar, Gantos’ website includes a teachers’ guide for this book including cross-curriculum connections, pre-reading activities/discussions, and standards-based discussion topics.  His site also encourages journaling—very strongly.  Visit here: http://www.jackgantos.com/index.html.  

 3P     5Q     Grades 9-12

hole_in_my_lifeCover Art: The repeated mug shot is reminiscent of Andy Warhol, especially on the jaundice-yellow background.  The font for the title, burgundy with a black “o” in hole, is block print but does not detract attention away from the mug shots.  Gantos’ “autograph” is an interesting way to include the author’s name on the cover.  Among the biographies, this cover will stand out for teens, but the spine is hard to read.  (Knowing what Jack Gantos looks like today, I can’t believe he ever looked like this!)

From Reading List: Too Good to Be True Nonfiction

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. N Messmore
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 08:39:20

    Check the other posts in this blog–all are reviews with synopses so you can pick some titles that interest you!

  2. fortunaterebel
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 00:16:08

    hey hey i just read this one by Jack Gantos, quite nice 🙂 any other good young adult books that you could recomment? thanks!

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