School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—In this gut-wrenching narrative of loneliness and anger, disillusion and hope, 15-year-old James desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged older brother, Louis, and agrees to deliver drugs to several clients. When he is arrested, he is abandoned by Louis and sent to a juvenile detention facility where intimidation, abuse, and violence among guards and inmates are daily occurrences. As James struggles to find his own voice and reconcile his feelings about his negligent brother and mother, he begins to realize that everyone can make choices about how they live and treat others. James is comforted by letters from a favorite English teacher, reading Jack London's The Sea Wolf, and the encouragement of a guard who teaches him to lift weights. In a climactic confrontation, he sheds his passive demeanor and attacks a cruel guard who is relentlessly punishing a gay inmate friend. In retaliation, James is brutally beaten by two guards. The unexpected intervention of a staff nurse brings paramedics who airlift James to a hospital and to a "second chance." Despite the harsh, stark circumstances of his broken home and the upstate New York detention center, James becomes more than a survivor. His nonaggressive disposition provokes contempt but enables him to see more clearly vulnerabilities and injustices around him. Like Shavonne in Goodman's Something Like Hope (Delacorte, 2010), James must set his own course in life and find supportive adults. Gripping action, gritty dialogue, vivid characters, and palpable tension permeate the brief chapters of James's powerful, honest, compelling narrative.—Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC
The New York Times Book Review - Ethan Bronner
Growing into manhoodthe theme of this finely executed young adult novelisn't easy for teenage boys, even those from the most stable homes. All share the challenge of grasping the difference between strength and tyranny, feebleness and compassion. But for James, the test is as hard as it gets…a gripping tale with important lessons for any young man.
In his second novel set in a juvenile detention center, Goodman (Something Like Hope) introduces 15-year-old James, who is caught running drugs for his older brother and sentenced to a year in juvie. Despite a rough initiation to the program, James—inspired by books recommended to him by his English teacher—does his best to stay out of trouble; however, his emotional and physical strength are tested time and again by corrupt, belligerent guards and boys who pressure him into joining a gang. Tension builds as James’s belief in himself and a better future begins to waver, and he helps a peer get revenge on a brutish guard, a choice that has dangerous repercussions. Goodman, who has worked inside such facilities himself, expresses harsh criticism of the juvenile justice system while telling a deeply personal story of an abused teen’s struggles to free himself from the constraints preventing him from reaching his goals. James’s expanding perception of the world inside and outside of the facility gives insight into the perpetuation of teen violence. Ages 14–up. Agent: Seth Fishman, the Gernert Company. (May)
From the Publisher
Seventeen.com Book Club Pick, May 31, 2013
"Kindness for Weakness is about a guy with a painful past you'll be rooting for from beginning to end...In this coming-of-age tale, kind-hearted James struggles to resist the all-consuming vicious cycle of cruelty in the prison."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2013:
"Gripping action, gritty dialogue, vivid characters, and palpable tension permeate the brief chapters of James‘s powerful, honest, compelling narrative."
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2013:
"Goodman’s background as a school psychologist is evident in his deeply felt characters and well-realized setting.Readers who are not familiar with the often-harsh conditions of the juvenile justice system will receive a realistic and compelling examination of adolescent life behind bars."
Publishers Weekly, April 15, 2013
“Goodman, who has worked inside such facilities himself, expresses harsh criticism of the juvenile justice system while telling a deeply personal story of an abused teen’s struggles to free himself from the constraints preventing him from reaching his goals. James’s expanding perception of the world inside and outside of the facility gives insight into the perpetuation of teen violence.”
Library Media Connection:
"The book is filled with action but James is always aware of who he is and who he could become in life if given a chance."
“Shawn Goodman takes us inside the gritty world of our juvenile justice system with the authority of an expert, the unsparing eye of a social reformer, and the verve of a master storyteller.” —Jordan Sonnenblick, the author of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
“A gripping story of a boy’s climb to manhood on his own terms” —Paul Volponi, author of The Final Four
“The main character, James, is an authentic young man with real feelings and fears, and the reader will be seized by his plight and determination not only to survive, but to better himself.” —Todd Strasser, author of Give a Boy a Gun
"Shawn Goodman leaves his huge heart on every page of this brave and truly beautiful novel. Kindness for Weakness is a daring dazzling leap into the dark passage that is the journey to manhood." —Paul Griffin, author of The Orange Houses
Children's Literature - Sarah Raymond
It only takes one bad choice to drastically change a person's life forever. Fifteen-year-old James is happy to be asked to run a few errands for his older brother Louis. He jumps at the chance, eager to strengthen their relationship and earn his brother's respect. Although deep down James knows what his brother is asking him to do, he is in denial until he is caught by the police and sent to the Thomas C. Morton Jr. Residential Center to serve out his time for dealing drugs. Here, the generally meek and timid James must learn how to stand up for himself. He lives in a world were self-preservation is the most important rule and being kind is seen as a sign of weakness that leaves one open to attack and pain. This is an extremely powerful story, a vivid look into the details of living in a detention center. James and the other boys at Thomas C. Morton Jr. are trying to survive in an extremely harsh and unforgiving world. For many, this sad portrayal will hit close to home. Reviewer: Sarah Raymond
VOYA - Beth E. Andersen
From the opening sentence, fifteen-year-old James is clinging to life; he is being airlifted to a hospital from a locked facility. Starting with chapter 2, James's story unwinds, wrenching detail by hopeless outcome. His weak mother is nearly catatonic with fear (and drugs) of her abusive, addicted, live-in boyfriend who brutalizes James at every opportunity. Desperate for someone, anyone, to care about him, James is enthralled with his handsome, older, drug-dealing brother, Louis, who "hires" James to deliver drugs to his clientele. James's one safety net is his bright, curious mind that is nurtured by his English teacher. Alas, it is not enough to protect James from getting busted and sent to Morton, one of the harshest juvie facilities in New York. James just wants to do his time, take advantage of the classes offered at Morton, and get on with his life. A couple of the guards do their best to help the boys focus on getting back on track but some powerful, corrupt, violent guards fuel the tinderbox environment and James suffers horrific consequences. Goodman's authentic depiction of New York's juvenile justice system is the direct result of his work in those facilities as a school psychologist. He has written a powerfuland powerfully depressingstory of a courageous, decent, young man putting up a ferociously brave battle against the ugly circumstances of his life that will cut him not one inch of slack. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen
A naïve young man does his best to survive a brutal stay in juvie in this story that is reminiscent of the work of E.R. Frank and Walter Dean Myers. Fifteen-year-old James is sent to the Thomas C. Morton Jr. Residential Center in upstate New York after he is caught dealing drugs for his older brother, Louis. There, he tries to escape the notice of the ruthless guards and the street-gang recruiters by working out and keeping to himself. Despite his abusive upbringing, James is a sensitive teen who devours the books recommended by his English teacher, Mr. Pfeffer, and dreams of earning his neglectful mother's love. Encouraged by a few kind staff members and Mr. Pfeffer's letters, James tries to stay positive but is slowly drawn into the Center's cycle of violence when he is targeted for being friends with an openly gay inmate named Freddie. When a sadistic guard attacks Freddie, James is forced to prove that his kindness is not weakness, with tragic results. Goodman's background as a school psychologist is evident in his deeply felt characters and well-realized setting. Readers who are not familiar with the often-harsh conditions of the juvenile justice system will receive a realistic and compelling examination of adolescent life behind bars in this second novel from the author of Something Like Hope (2011). (Fiction. 14 & up)