Book Review: Juvie

“Maybe not being guilty wasn’t the same as being innocent.” For Sadie Windas, the line between innocence and guilt is so faint; it is hard to see the difference.

Sadie’s journey of self discovery begins with the kind of decision no good kid should have to make, whether or not to take the fall for her sister’s wrongdoing. All it took was one night, and a series of bad decisions, for straight-laced, high school basketball star Sadie to lose it all, and end up sentenced to a juvenile detention center.

Sadie isn’t your traditional young-adult protagonist. She’s wise beyond her years, the result of having to grow up too fast while her older sister Carla refuses to grow up at all, leaving Sadie to play the role of mother to her three year old niece, Carla’s daughter, Lulu. Aside from her athletic, tomboy-esque persona, Sadie has a maternal instinct that is surprising, especially given the lack of warmth and nurturing from her own mother—a divorcee who works two jobs and has little emotional room to spare. In fact, Sadie’s ability to care for the often neglected Lulu serves as a stark contrast to her own broken family life, including her agoraphobic, hoarder of a father who can’t do more than mail a childhood drawing to Sadie while she’s in lockup.

It is during Sadie’s six months in juvie that the novel departs from the typical coming of age story into a rich, multifaceted journey through the past and present, all building up to the ultimate ending: What happens when a good girl gets locked up?

While incarcerated, Sadie is forced to navigate through the detainee hierarchy, which means choosing sides, and sometimes, breaking the rules to survive. There are moments of deep sadness and revelation, especially as the story moves through alternating chapters into the past, leading the reader through the choices and circumstances that led Sadie to juvenile hall. There are also moments of vivid brutality, including teeth clenching scenes that will make you wince in anticipated pain. If you’re looking to lose yourself in a great story, you’ve found your next read.

I highly recommend Steve Watkins’ newest novel, Juvie for both parents and teens; it is not only a provocative tale of one girl’s misfortune, but also a gripping look at what a child’s life behind bars is truly like. Teachers can also use this in a classroom setting to discuss the greater implications of choice, responsibility, and ultimately, what “innocence” truly means.

You can preorder this book before its release on October 8, 2013 here.