Hole in My Life, Jack Gantos

Saturday, January 27, 2018

You know, as someone who works with teenagers on a regular basis, I am sometimes astounded by the fact that any of us actually make it to adulthood in one piece. I can think of at least a dozen times between the ages of 13 and 21 when I made some decision that should probably have resulted in my fiery death or dismemberment, but somehow I managed to survive my own stupidity.

Essentially, Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos is one long example illustrating my point. In it, Gantos tells the story of his late teen years, when he was drifting between his family's home in the Virgin Islands and rented efficiency apartments back in the States. Gantos' father had moved the family to the Virgin Islands to start his own contracting business, which he expected Jack to work for when he graduated from high school. Jack did give it a go, joining his family in the islands after graduating from school in Florida, but when a government overthrow caused the tourists to dry up and construction to stop, Jack knew that if he ever wanted to have enough money for college, or to travel around the world finding story ideas for the books he hoped to one day write, he was going to have to get out of the islands and do something big. And because he was 19, and therefore prone to risk-taking and poor decision making, he agreed to help sail a boat full of drugs from the Virgin Islands to New York in exchange for enough money to get him started on his grand writing dreams.

As you can imagine, this did not turn out well for Jack. Gantos shares his story with self-deprecating humor and full recognition of just how stupid his choices were. But this is more than just a cautionary tale for young people about the perils of trying to take short-cuts in life. At its core, it is the story of how one writer found his voice, and went from thinking about writing to actually doing it. It wasn't until Jack was locked up in a small, yellow cell that he was finally forced to confront his own thoughts in a way that just HAD to be put on paper.

I enjoyed this book as an adult reader, but it is considered YA. I think that for many teens, the struggles Gantos goes through in the beginning of the book will resonate, and his tone is never preachy. The way he tells his story feels more like the way a new friend might tell you a crazy story from before you knew them than an object lesson on walking the straight and narrow.

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