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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
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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Ilana Habib

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.

Posted : Mar 08, 2016 09:07

Caroline Walsh

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.

Posted : Mar 08, 2016 04:37

Natalie Nihill

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.

Posted : Mar 07, 2016 10:02

Montserrat Cubillos

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.

Posted : Mar 07, 2016 08:14

Alex Sucheck

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.

Posted : Mar 07, 2016 07:49

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