Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Sunday, July 14, 2013

Plot Summary:
Martin Stokes  is currently serving time in New York's Rikers Island on a "trumped" charge that should have slapped him with no time served and probation. However, due to financial hardship, Martin's mother was unable to post his bail and his original court day was delayed by his public defender and the judge presiding over his case. Martin has been at Riker's for five months and he is desperate to get out. When his new court date finally arrived, Martin faced yet another set-back and was sent back to jail. Furious, and disappointed, Martin was ready to implode until his partner-in-shackles threw a punch that led to a fight where Martin was slashed in the face. Not knowing what his face looks life, and if the pain will ever go away, Martin is struggling with his hate and then he is moved from his modular to the "the Sprung." Not quite sure what's going on, Martin decides to keep a low profile and let everyone know that he is not to be trifled with. However, all of this changes when he learns that "the Sprung" is actually a facility that allows offenders a second chance at life: to earn a high school diploma. Martin is not only relieved that he doesn't have to fear for his life, but he can actually get back on track on with his life. Although he only has a few weeks left before his court date, Martin meets a variety of people who not only genuinely care about him, but makes realizes the true meaning of friendship, especially after an incident that shakes the entire  Sprung.

Critical Evaluation:
Paul Volponi has written a story that is not only very real, but provides a unique perspective into the world of the juvenile corrections system. As an adult, reading this book, I struggled with with incidents that took place, especially when the race question was posed. However, this story is not about exposing the dark side of judicial system, but about surviving and getting out. Martin was not only imprisoned on a bogus charge, but he was attacked by an inmate who should not have had a weapon in the first place. Martin has every right to retaliate, but he realizes that if he does, he will not only lose his freedom, but he will cause immense pain to his family. I really appreciate how the author gave Martin a conscience that not only realized that difference between good and bad, but that with every decision he makes there will always be a consequence. Furthermore, I also appreciated how the author inserted adult figures who genuinely care about the teens and were willing to sacrifice a lot to fight for them. However, in order to demonstrate the concept of "the good and the bad," there were also adults who didn't care about the inmates (they only cared about their image and getting paid) and teens, who were provoked, paid the price for their lack of compassion and integrity. Lastly, another grim reality that readers saw is when inmates commit suicide. The loss of Sanchez hit Martin very hard because he was not only the first person he could call "friend," but he was intelligent, kind, and terrified of being moved to prison. Although Martin blames Brick (the resident hustler) for dreaming up the scheme hat led to Sanchez's death, but, deep down, he knew that the reason why this happened is because Sanchez did not want to have to fight for his life by committing unspeakable things to others and himself. This is the harsh reality of prison life and reader's learn the difference between jail and prison. Rikers High is a great title for those who need a bit of a wake call or for those looking for a gritty read about life behind bars.

Information about the Author:
In his brief biography on his website:
Paul Volponi is a writer, journalist, and teacher living in New York City. From 1992 to 1998, he taught incarcerated teens on Rikers Island to read and write. That experience formed the basis of his ALA award-winning novels Black and White and Rikers High. From 1999 to 2005, Paul taught teens in drug treatment programs, inspiring his ALA award-winning novel Rooftop

Teen Lit for Guys, Teen Contemporary Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Riker's High:
Awards & Recognition:

"Volponi's punchy, journalistic prose runs the gamut of emotions, propelling readers through relief and triumph." --Kirkus

"This novel is a strong choice for middle and high school libraries." --VOYA

{ 1 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Thanx for sharing such a informative topic.I found just the info I already searched all over the place and simply couldn’t come across


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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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