Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Bibliographic Information: Gantos, J. (2002). Hole in My Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).  ISBN: 0374399883.  208 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: Sometimes a person does not realize that he is making a huge mistake until it is too late.  Sometimes a person forgets to think about the consequences of his actions.  Jack Gantos, now an accomplished author of books for pre-teens (including the Joey Pigza series), was in his late teens when he made a mistake that would change his life.  In the early 1970’s $10,000 could buy even more than it can now, and that it what Gantos was promised as a payment if he could help a man sail a boat full of hashish from The Caribbean island of St. Croix to New York City.  “I didn’t think of the danger involved with braking the law.  I didn’t even consider that I had no idea how to sail a large boat…that anything bad could possible happen.”  But we know something bad did happen, because Gantos opens the book with a discussion of his time in prison and the fear of random violence he lived with every moment of every day.  Always interested in becoming a writer, but never following through, Gantos also started writing in earnest while he was in prison.  This memoir was not his first or even second book, it was published over 30 years after he started his life in prison, but his words describe his past life as if the visceral memories or not, in any way, forgotten.

Critical Evaluation: Gantos’ voice is honest and frank.  He manages to tell his story with a careful balance to the point of almost being objective.  He’s not self-aggrandizing or egomaniacal nor is he overly self-deprecating, all traps into which memoir writers can fall.  Gantos’ story is compelling, and though, as mentioned above, readers know from the start (the front cover shows his mugs hot) that Gantos will end up in prison, the path to get there take enough twists and turns that the story is still suspenseful and engaging.  There are parts of the story that could probably have been edited a bit to speed up the pace, it felt a little long at times, but overall this book is well worth the read.  There are many episodes from Gantos’ life that could inspire interesting and exciting class, book group, or family discussions.  There are lessons to be learned from Gantos, not because he preaches and not because he feels sorry for himself, but because he earns his readers’ respect through sometimes brutal honesty and his willingness to make himself vulnerable and open for to truly see him and learn from his mistakes.

Reader’s Annotation: In the early 1970’s, Jack in Gantos was an aspiring writer who didn’t have the money he needed to attend college, and he was in a job he hated.  So, when he was offered $10,000 to help sail a shipment of drugs from the Caribbean to New York City he said, “Count me in.”

Information about the Author: Jack Gantos is an award-winning author of children’s, tween young adult, and adult books.  As a child he wanted to become a writer, in fact, according to his website, “The seeds for Jack Gantos’ writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could.”

It was in college that Gantos published his first children’s book; he received a BA and an MA from Emerson College in Boston.  At Emerson he became an instructor in children’s book writing and eventually created a masters program in children’s book writing.  Gantos also taught at Vermont College in the M.F.A. program for children’s book writers.  “He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking.” (Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos)

Genre/Category: Non-Fiction, Coming of Age, Suspense, Crime

Topics Covered: Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, Illegal Activities, Incarceration, Growing Up, Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties: Health, Responsible Decision Making, Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The immense and intense fear Gantos felt in prison
  • Can one mistake ruin your whole life?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues: Drug Use, Alcohol Abuse, Drug Selling, Illegal Activities.

Why is this book included? Hole in my Life won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert honors; it is a compelling and moving story of a young man facing himself and not liking what he sees sometimes.  It is non-fiction with all of the drama of fiction and the emotional honesty only a memoir can provide.  In other words, it’s a great book, and a great addition to a non-fiction section for young adults.

References:

Gantos, J. (n.d.). Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos.  Retrieved from http://www.jackgantos.com.vhost.zerolag.com/bio-photos/

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