In Sider’s (The Things That Fall Away, 2013) novel, a privileged young woman’s life undergoes a radical shift when she’s sent to prison on trumped-up drug charges.
Abby Blackwood is an intelligent, beautiful yet aimless woman who’s floundering after high school. After offhandedly pointing out a drug dealer to an undercover cop, she unbelievably receives a five-year sentence at the Maysville Correctional Facility for Women. After initially trying to keep to herself by reading Neil Gaiman novels and taking long runs during yard time, she eventually makes new friends, including Mad T, her intimidating but illiterate suite mate; Sheronda, a savvy woman with a knack for gossip; and Grandma, an elderly gang leader who protects Christian inmates from sexual predators. Abby, who’s well-schooled in self-defense and small-town drama, finds herself uniquely suited to prison life, and her intelligence and pluck earn her respect from fellow inmates as well as guards. In fact, pretty-boy Sgt. Quinn’s subtle glances and restrained advances eventually lead to a secret affair. After Abby’s early release, she discovers the challenges of facing the world as both an ex-con and an expectant mother. Sider excels at portraying micro-communities, from the dynamic of Abby’s desultory life in small-town Springfield to the church-based, gossip-laden atmosphere of the town of Grayson, which she joins after her release. But the intricate hierarchy of the guards and prisoners in Maysville’s Unit B is most impressive; it’s a sexually charged but heartwarming place where morals, friendship and love matter as much as baser motivations. These memorable settings, and their respective supporting casts, are key to the novel, as Abby’s characterization is rather weak; she seems far too capable and self-aware, and she undergoes little dramatic change or growth. Instead, Abby merely weathers whatever conflict is thrust upon her in the moment, from her father’s death to the numerous obstacles she faces as she tries to reunite with Quinn.
An often addictive read with intimate settings and fine supporting characters, even if its protagonist is a bit too unshakeable.