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Summary: In the Idaho Territory, there is only one prison. So it didn't matter that Jake Oliver Evans was 10 and all the other inmates were grown men. As Jake tells us, he killed a man, and he had to do his time. The Warden (whom Jake calls Whitebeard), a prison guard named Henry, and a fellow inmate each play a part in helping to keep Jake safe. This is a fictional novel based loosely on the life of Oscar James Baker.
Type of Reading: anytime reading, family reading, independent reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 9 and Up; read yourself: 9 and Up
Young Reader Reaction: Prisoner 88 is told through the voice of a 10-year-old boy whose struggles and haunting life experiences leave a lasting impression. The author has captured the essence of a young child trying to grow up in a world he does not quite understand while giving the reader a comprehensive understanding of the situation he is in. It is like having two adjacent windows looking into the same world, but seeing two different views of the same place. The story is written in vernacular, making it easy to follow, but readers can see that it is is very complex. Jake is a trusting, inquisitive child, which, in this unconventional setting makes the story more intriguing. This book snaps up readers from the first page because of its viewpoint that is simple, but startlingly revealing. The story ends abruptly, with a few short statements that seem more like a summary than a real conclusion.
I highly recommend Prisoner 88 to middle school students, but it should be appealing to any age group. It is a short piece of historical fiction that kids can easily digest since the language is colloquial and it is not informational to the point which it becomes bland.
Adult Reader Reaction: At first I was taken aback by Jake's poor grammar. That disappeared quickly. Jake's "voice" permeates the story, and I became more interested in his experiences, the people he encountered, and his attitude toward life. I would like to think there is more fact than fiction ... and the story certainly reads that way.
Pros: Jake is an unforgettable character who speaks to readers of all types and ages. He is that rare fictional character whom kids can see as a model on how to live your life.
Borrow or Buy: Buy. This slim novel is plenty powerful and I can see myself going back to get a "life's glass is half full" perspective from Jake.
Educational Themes: Although the story is told as a biography (first person), there is a lot of context that go beyond Jake's individual story. It could open more interest in life in the Western territories in the 1800s; how the law works; and foster care.
Notes: The publisher donated an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need.
Literary Categories: Fiction - historical fiction, realistic fiction, US history
Date(s) Reviewed: April 2014, November 2014
Other Reviews: See Critics' Reviews and reader feedback at amazon.com. and barnesandnoble.com.