Disheartened by his own experiences as a juvenile offender, Douglas Healy has made his life's work an experimental program to provide a nurturing, positive environment for kids like him: Kids who have ended up in the juvenile justice system, but who might avoid recidivism with special support and counseling. Healy selects three teen offenders to live with him in his halfway house/apartment in New York City: Gecko Fosse, car thief and getaway driver; Arjay Moran, sent to adult prison for manslaughter; and Terence Florian, gangbanger and all-around jive-talking operator. While they live with Healy, they must attend school, keep their grades up, participate in group therapy and complete community service. The three boys struggle with the requirements, particularly Terence. Late one night, Terence attempts to break curfew via the fire escape. First, Gecko and Arjay try to stop him, and then Mr. Healy. Healy tumbles to the street, sustaining a head injury. The boys rush him to the hospital, but leave with his ID before he and they can be identified.
They decide to wait things out at the apartment, proceeding through their days and required activities as if all were normal. If the authorities realize that they are without supervision, they'll be re-incarcerated. But when they discover that Mr. Healy has no memory of who he is, the boys know they'll have to be on their best behavior long-term, with varying success. But when the dragon/social worker demands a onsite inspection, and Mr. Healy is transferred to the loony bin in The Bronx, desperate measures are required. The Juvie Three will each have to re-connect with their bad side if they're going to stay free.
There's something for everyone in here: bromance, romance, car chases, punk rock, wealth and privilege, knife fights, group therapy with a model cum psychiatrist and a couple of wacky patients, an African American (Arjay) with two loving parents and white kids from less happy homes, and To Kill a Mockingbird. It's fast and breezy, almost squeaky clean, and its message of redemption goes down easy. The breakout from the loony bin is pretty exciting and the ending is satisfactory.
A favorite narrator of mine, Christopher Evan Welch, reads the novel. I like listening to his slightly husky, compassionate voice. While he doesn't sound particularly youthful, his rhythms and delivery capture a youthful feel. He creates individual voices for the three boys, and if Terence sounds a little stereotypically hiphop-y (in a white way), it proves distinctive enough that I accepted it. Gecko is the central character of the three boys, and I enjoyed the mix of loneliness and naïveté I heard in Welch's voice (much the same as the empathetic voice he provides in The Last Apprentice books). Welch creates natural-sounding voices for most of novel's secondary characters as well. I enjoyed his voices for the three other misfits from therapy -- a kleptomaniac, a nerdy hacker, and a goth girl, as well as Roxanne, Gecko's almost-girlfriend.
OK, I digressed into cozy mysteries, satisfying quests, and teen humor. I've still got a book I didn't like very much to blog about, but now it's back to the grindstone. Bring on the biracial orphans, suicide, and grave robbers -- just a titillating taste of what's to come!
[The logo from Portland's own Amnesia Brewing is from its twitter site.]
The Juvie Three by Gordon Korman
Narrated by Christopher Evan Welch
Recorded Books, 2008. 5:30