June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Breakout by Kate Messner | SLJ Review

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redstarMESSNER, Kate. Breakout. 240p. Bloomsbury. Jun. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681195360.

Gr 4-6 –Nora and Lizzie have grown up in Wolf Creek, a small town where Nora’s father is superintendent of the maximum security prison. Elidee, one of only two African American students at Wolf Creek Middle School, recently moved there to be closer to her brother who is incarcerated in Wolf Creek Correctional Facility. When two inmates escape, tensions begin to rise. The story is told through letters and other documents by the three girls. Nora reports on the breakout, Lizzie parodies these reports, and Elidee writes poetry inspired by Jacqueline Woodson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Readers also see text messages, school announcements, comics, and transcribed conversations. The book is a rich source of writing examples which can become didactic: at one point, students duly follow their teacher’s instructions on persuasive writing to write petitions. The broad range of writing formats is engaging, however, and allows readers to understand the varying viewpoints of Nora, Elidee, and Lizzie. Messner places issues of race and criminal justice at the center of the story: Elidee frequently encounters racism in Wolf Creek, Lizzie learns about racial imbalances in the prison population, and Nora’s older brother tells her about Black Lives Matter. The few middle grade titles that include characters in prison in a contemporary setting (Leslie Connor’s All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, Deborah Ellis’s Jakeman) don’t discuss these issues so explicitly. VERDICT An accessible format and a unique focus on contemporary issues of criminal justice and racial bias make this an essential purchase.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

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