The victims of a real-life correctional facility for boys are fictionalized in White’s debut novel.
Patrik and George, both 15, enter the Florida Industrial School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, in 1959. The correctional facility hides various abuses. The sadistic guard, Murdok, gives boys savage, ritualized beatings in a building known as the “cold box” and the “rape room.” When Patrik tries to get help, Murdok threatens to pin all of his own crimes on Patrik. Patrik and George escape and begin traveling to New York City on foot. They make steady progress through the South, but they’re ill-equipped and rely on strangers for supplies. Their luck goes from bad to worse when they become lost and sick before finally being arrested after Patrik steals four bottles of whiskey. They are tried as adults without the benefit of counsel and are sentenced to six years in prison. The boys serve on brutal work details and spend time in chains at their new “home.” Fearing that they are going to spend the rest of their youth in prison and feeling as if Murdok is still observing them, Patrik and George face challenges to their friendship and their sanity as they try to survive prison. White’s tale of the boys’ hardships is a compelling one, especially because it’s based on two real teenage victims of the Marianna correctional facility. However, many of the author’s attempts to expand the story become confusing. A sudden focus on a secondary character named Lowe is unnecessary, and a switch to the first-person plural and the prison warden’s perspective distract from the primary storyline.
An affecting, unsettling tale of steadfast friendship that needs fewer change-ups.