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Hole in My Life | Class #6, 2016

Hole in My LifeA beloved author for children, Jack Gantos takes a risk in revealing his naïve involvement in drug smuggling and subsequent prison time as a young man. Is there value in engaging so honestly with young adult readers over controversial topics? How might they react to this work of nonfiction?

Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.

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  1. Karen Tlili says:

    I think it is extremely valuable for Jack Gantos to engage with young adults readers in such an honest way. Adolescence is such a time for finding yourself and gaining experience in making good and bad choices. I think it is very powerful for him to put himself out there because it allows his readers to know that he made bad choices, with his involvement with drugs and subsequently prison, and is still a successful adult today. It is particularly powerful as a work of non-fiction. It helps YA readers to understand that one bad choice does not spell out certain doom or failure, which is a message that can come across to teens today. I believe that this message could be appealing to a many readers, and especially children who may find following the “rules” of school to be difficult.

  2. Faye Maison says:

    I think as adults we find topics to be more controversial than an adolescent reader might find them. It could be the experience and wisdom that comes with age but we might understand the impact of certain life events more than adolescents can. I say this to encourage educators to let adolescents pick up books like Hole in My Life, because there is the great chance that students will still find lessons that are relatable to them.

    I was amused that Gantos referred to other popular books in YA literature, specifically Go Ask Alice. It made it clear that there are plenty of other novels out there that describe the terrors of drug use and give an idea to what adolescents are already familiar with. What stood out to me was Gantos’s description of life in prison. He didn’t leave out the prevalence of prison rape or the reality of prison wives and husbands. I think that is a difficult subject for most people and was surprised to read about it in detail in the book. There are a range of questions and discussions that can come out of this book regarding race, black power, the seventies, prison then vs. now.

  3. Alex Sucheck says:

    One of the quotes that stuck with me is, “”I figured my face was the landscape of my attitude” (Gantos, 132). Jack’s mistakes, his dream to become a writer, the stress of waiting for his sentence while at the Chelsea hotel–all get mapped out onto his face, which breaks out and becomes a sort of visual mirror of his inner emotional state. I think this metaphor might resonate well with teenagers, who are familiar with such a cosmetic problem, typical of their age. Jack’s story is an honest, brutal account of making mistakes, bad choices, but remedying them in the best way he could. He finds solace in literature, “I was living off the voices of other people’s pain….I knew my fear was as real as theirs, but my words were still submerged” (Gantos, 135). I was a little taken aback by the adult nature of the book, but now I think that this book might be great for allowing teens to explore their relationship to drugs, legality, and making choices. Also, despite being thrown in jail, Jack makes lemonade out of life’s lemons, and ironically develops his writing skills almost as a result of the whole mess. He turns a bad situation to his advantage, because he is open to maturing inside of it: an important skill for young adults.

  4. Montserrat Cubillos says:

    Like others have said before me, I also think there is much value in reading this novel. It reminded me of the discussion we had the first class about whether characters had to set examples for readers. I remember that someone said that characters should learn from their mistakes. A Hole in My Life is exactly that kind of novel. Jack accurately describes his mistake and its consequences, but also how he came out of the hole he had fallen in. He treats his audience with respect by not withholding any part of the truth. The memoir works because it is sincere, there is no embellishment to make the story sound prettier. We can make up all sorts of stories to explain tough topics like drug abuse or imprisonment, but none will be as eloquent as the real account of a real person.

  5. Natalie Nihill says:

    Until Jack finally hatches his plan for early release from prison, the reader follows him from one situation to the next in which he feels trapped, and is looking for an opportunity to escape. Through a series of metaphorical confinements, his high school set in a former prison, the island, the boat at sea, and ultimately the actual incarnation of imprisonment, Jack is trapped and isolated, searching for the next opportunity to escape and make it in the world of writing. Through this journey, the words of others are a window into how he should think, feel, and act. His words are bound within the constraints of these authors. His writer’s voice is freed upon his release, when he realizes that the path of his life has not already been written. He is the author of his life, and although he believes that his greatest writing was enmeshed between the lines of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

    Jack writes, “Each time I read a book, I cataloged the parts that struck me dumb with envy and admiration for their beauty and power and truth.” The morale of his story is not about making bad decisions and their consequences. Gantos’ message is that “beauty and power and truth” doesn’t need to be chased, it resides in front of us if we choose to notice it.

  6. Caroline Walsh says:

    Last week, my in-class discussion group talked about the value of facilitating opportunities for healthy and productive dialogue around more controversial, or adult, issues through literacy instruction. As I read Hole In My Life, I found myself thinking deeply about the utility of Gantos’ writing as a platform for discussing such issues. The sincerity and authenticity in his voice allows for a story that otherwise might be perceived either as reckless, or potentially instructive, to take the form of a window/mirror for students to reflect upon and learn from. It is inherently and authentically instructive. Like bloggers before me, I found the narrative as a great foundation to provide context for discussing the notion that there are consequences, good and bad, to all of our actions.

    As I was reading, I thought about the amount of background knowledge that I happened to have about classic literary works, and how those references enhanced the story for me tenfold. I wonder about using his literary allusions and references to great works and great authors as a guide for having students engage in book clubs or literacy circles as a means of developing cultural literacy.

  7. Ilana Habib says:

    I really enjoyed this and see tremendous value in students from this book. Gantos provides a candid look at the decisions that landed him in jail, and while his misadventures are presented in a fun and comical way- the consequences of his action are also taken seriously. I thought the literary allusions and connections to outside texts provide many opportunities for students to engage in outside learning. Additionally, I think the book raises questions about economic and racial structures in our country that led Gantos to take such a dangerous path in the first place.

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