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Breakout

Review

Breakout

When I was seven years old, my father went to prison. He came out when I was fourteen and went in again just shy of my sixteenth birthday. For most of my life, I kept this a secret. One of the main characters in BREAKOUT by Kate Messner, understands what I went through and because the experience is very rarely discussed in books with any accuracy or gravitas, I felt like I was reading an echo of my own feelings on the page.

BREAKOUT takes place in the small town of Wolf Creek, New York in the days following a prison break from the maximum correctional facility that dominates their town. One character claims that every adult in the town must work in the prison, as it’s the main industry that makes up the area. Two men from prison make their escape and evade searchers, correction officers and police for two weeks causing a frenzy in the small town. Families who never locked their doors before start doing so; kids usually allowed to wander the sleepy town are kept inside to play and outside activities are cancelled or monitored by heavily armed police.

"Kate Messner deftly handles the topics of industrial prison complex, race relations in prison, institutional racism and racial tensions in a small mostly white town....I hope BREAKOUT is nominated for all the awards this year because it truly deserves the recognition."

One of the coolest things about this book --- and one of the things I think will appeal to readers of all ages --- is that it has a multimedia format. The main characters in the novel are putting together a record of the prison break for a time capsule project so the pages of the book are made up of emails, text messages, letters, news articles, conversation and interview transcripts and various media. It provides an overview of the general state of things in the town from every perspective, including the three main characters Nora, Ellidee and Lizzie.

Nora is the daughter of the prison's superintendent. She's an inquisitive (almost nosy) aspiring journalist who has lived in this mountain town her entire life.

In order to be closer to her brother who is in prison, Ellidee, an incredible athlete and poet, and her mother move up to Wolf Creek at the end of the school year. Lizzie is Nora's best friend and prefers to deal with situations with satire, even when they hit close to home.

Through each girl's perspective, we are given a different point of view and can see the way the town and its people are reacting to the prison break (spoiler alert: not very well.).  They begin to point fingers, question outsiders and close ranks in an obnoxious way and the girls are left to navigate the town's ridiculous prejudices. 

I believe Kate Messner deftly handles the topics of industrial prison complex, race relations in prison, institutional racism and racial tensions in a small mostly white town. The caveat of this, of course, is that despite my connection to having a relative in prison, I'm not a person of color and so while hope that the book handled the topics well, I can only speak from one experience. That being said, I was really impressed by the discussion in this and I really hope it inspires discussion at home and in the classroom --- especially with younger kids who are smarter than adults give them credit for.

I'm so grateful to the author for what I believe to be an accurate and real portrayal of having a family member in prison. My heart went out to Ellidee as she had to deal with the ignorance of her fellow classmates and adults in the town. I admired her strength and her ability to write through the situation (what she calls “writing her way out,” something she was inspired to do from the beloved musical Hamilton).

This book definitely didn't take the easy way out. It confronted the tough subjects, never straying from what needed to be said. It was definitely not an easy read --- Ellidee's experience was heartbreaking and even harder to deal with because I know it's real from the way I’ve seen people react to the family of incarcerated individuals also. I think the way that Nora and Lizzie also had to confront things about their town --- the disparity between people of color in the prison and the white correction’s officers, the deeply rooted prejudices and distrust of outsiders --- that was not obvious to them was also important and will hopefully help engender discussion. I think this book will provide teachable moments inside and outside the classroom on a host of subjects and will appeal to readers of all ages due to its wonderful storytelling and characters.

I hope BREAKOUT is nominated for all the awards this year because it truly deserves the recognition.

Reviewed by Brianna Robinson on August 20, 2018

Breakout
by Kate Messner