A surprisingly affecting portrait of a 10-year-old boy in 1885 who is sentenced to five years for manslaughter and sent to the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary.
Inspired by a real incident reported in an Idaho newspaper on May 2, 1885,
Pileggi convincingly creates a story of a resilient, not-really-aware-that-he’s-neglected, illiterate boy with a big heart. Jake struggles to comprehend and survive a harsh prison setting that was never set up to include juveniles. And yet “I was settled in just fine,” thanks in part to the kindly warden who arranges for him to work on a hog farm and take reading lessons from a fellow prisoner and to “eating a heaped-up tray of food every darned day.” Told from Jake’s point of view in the first person, this fast-paced, absorbing debut covers approximately nine months. Jake, aka “prisoner 88,” is attacked on several occasions and, during an attempted escape of two of the prisoners, does what he thinks is right, with unforeseen consequences. He takes his job tending the hogs seriously and witnesses both the birth of a litter of piglets and a slaughter. And, against all odds, he develops a community of sorts—a young guard, the farm family, several prisoners, a cat....Mystery surrounds his own story—what happened that day in the saloon when his Pa was threatened and a gun went off, killing the owner; was an injustice done when Jake was convicted?
Young readers, including reluctant ones, will be rooting for Jake. (archival photograph, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-13)