Rikers High

Rikers High

4.2 10
by Paul Volponi

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Martin was sitting on the front stoop of his apartment building minding his own business when he was arrested for something he didn't even mean to do. Five months later, he's still locked up on Rikers Island, in a New York City jail. Just when it seems things couldn-t get much worse, Martin is caught between two warring prisoners, and his face is slashed. Now he'll

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Martin was sitting on the front stoop of his apartment building minding his own business when he was arrested for something he didn't even mean to do. Five months later, he's still locked up on Rikers Island, in a New York City jail. Just when it seems things couldn-t get much worse, Martin is caught between two warring prisoners, and his face is slashed. Now he'll be forever marked with a prison scar. One good thing comes from the attack: Martin is transferred to a different part of Rikers where inmates are required to attend high school. If Martin opens up to a teacher who really seems to care, perhaps he'll learn a lesson more valuable than any taught in class.

An award-winning author, Paul Volponi is uniquely qualified to tell Martin's story because he taught on Rikers Island for six years. He originally wrote Rikers for an adult audience. The book has been revised for young adults and is being republished as Rikers High.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Volponi (Homestretch) recasts his adult novel, Rikers (Black Heron, 2002), for a teen audience that will likely be riveted. Seventeen-year-old Martin Stokes has been imprisoned for five months, awaiting trial for a petty crime. Returning from court, he cannot get out of the way when another inmate attacks the boy to whom he is shackled. Martin's face is slashed with a razor; the ensuing scar is a metaphor for the mark prison will leave on the boy, who is no angel (he tells his harried legal aid lawyer she is a “miserable shit”), but whose punishment bears absolutely no relationship to his crime. His break comes when a jailhouse teacher helps him see the importance of finishing school, setting Martin on a path to make the right choice when he's yet again thrust into a violent altercation not of his own making. Volponi, who taught on Rikers Island for six years, writes with an authenticity that will make readers feel Martin's fear. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)
Rare is the reader who won't find his narrative sobering.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Martin Stokes is awaiting trial at Rikers Island, a New York City correctional facility. His alleged crime is steering: telling an undercover police officer where to buy marijuana in his neighborhood. Riding back to Rikers on a bus after his court date is rescheduled, Martin gets caught between two boys fighting and is cut in the face with a blade. He is assigned to a new unit, and the cut is both the first thing the boys in Sprung #3 notice about him and a metaphor for the indelible mark that prison will leave. In the new unit, Martin attends school for the first time on the Island. The plot is episodic, reflecting both the repetitiveness of daily existence in jail and its instability: one day the house is enjoying the fruits of its commissary visit; the next, the boys are being strip-searched after an apathetic teacher loses his metal chalk holder. Volponi, himself a teacher on Rikers Island for six years, brings to life a believable range of teachers, COs, and inmates and portrays power, hierarchies, and race relations both outside and inside the jail walls with unflinching realism. Martin's narrative voice is frank, conversational, and sometimes angry, and his language, including cursing, is perfectly suited to his character. Physical violence, masturbation, and suicide are all addressed honestly, and teen boys will relate.—Megan Honig, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Five months after his arrest, 17-year-old Martin Stokes is still waiting on Riker's Island for his sentencing. He's picked up a few things during that time, including some GED coursework, many observations about the inequality of the justice system and a scar on his cheek from a slashing razor blade. Volponi's punchy, journalistic prose runs the gamut of emotions, propelling readers through relief and triumph before plunging them back into anger and frustration. Martin's inner workings are left largely unexplored, but his internal dialogue enables adequate character development. Using an amalgamation of real-life people and experiences as his basis to create a rich balance of despair and promise, the author provides a satisfying experience for all readers. These pooled personalities also give substance to secondary characters that might otherwise languish in the shadows. This tale of education and life on the Island will keep readers locked to the page. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
"With down-to-earth language based on his own experiences . . . Volponi captures the reader." -VOYA
VOYA - Marla K. Unruh
Afterward it seemed like a set up. A boy was sitting on his stoop when an undercover cop posing as a thug stepped up to him and demanded to know where to get some weed. The boy, Martin, tried to be tough, too, and told him about the neighborhood spot. Shortly thereafter, a police cruiser rolled up, and the officers arrested Martin, charging him with steering. Now on Rikers Island, he is simply "Forty," his bed number, as he waits through months of delay to get his case heard and enduring pressures that could cause an adult to crack. Caught in the middle of a scuffle, his face is slashed with a razor, and he is subsequently sent to the section where inmates take GED classes. Among the teachers, there is at least one compassionate grownup. Drawing upon his teaching experience in this same detention center, the author conveys the gritty life in juvenile jail. Martin and his cellmates deal with teen gangs and bullying adults in replays of characters and events that Volponi knew firsthand. Young readers will identify with Martin and the other boys, who are just adolescents, after all. A compelling story of living in a system where justice does not necessarily prevail just because someone is young, this novel is a strong choice for middle and high school libraries. Reviewer: Marla K. Unruh
VOYA - Colby Smith
With down-to-earth language based on his own experiences as a teacher at Rikers Island Juvenile Correction Facility, Volponi captures the reader with his stark portrayal of prison life. This book will appeal to teens because the author doesn't mince words when describing the corrections officers and the doldiers, or doer/soldiers, that work for the inmates controlling life at Rikers. The writing is acceptable, but the harsh reality is what appeals to readers. Reviewer: Colby Smith, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature - Della A. Yannuzzi
Author Volponi has written a book based on his teaching experiences in a drug-treatment program on Rikers Island. The incidents are real, although the protagonist is fictional and based on the actual experiences of the students-inmates. The timeline of the story begins on Tuesday, June 2 and ends on Friday, June 19. Martin Stokes is the fictional character sent to Rikers Island for a crime he did not mean to do. He gets caught in a razor fight between two inmates and receives scars that will mark him forever. The attack sends Stokes to a different part of Rikers where inmates are required to attend high school. He meets a teacher who wants to help him, but will Stokes accept the help or reject it in favor of getting revenge on his attackers? Can Stokes prove to his mother that he wants to get off of Rikers and stay out of trouble? The temptation to go astray is everywhere, from beatings from other inmates to threats of beatings from the correctional officers. Stokes wants out of Rikers Island, but how can he survive two weeks in an atmosphere where trouble is waiting around every corner. Luckily, Stokes gets a year of probation and a drug program on Saturday mornings. His mom comes to take him home, but can Stokes survive on the streets and stay out of trouble? Author Volponi hints that Martin Stokes story is not over. This is a gritty, realistic story about young people heading down the wrong path. There is help along the way, but many, unlike Stokes, do not get a second chance. Reviewer: Della A. Yannuzzi

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Paul Volponi is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult novel Black & White. From 1992 to 1998, he taught adolescents on Rikers Island in New York City to read and write. Mr. Volponi worked at a day treatment center like Daytop teaching students and helping them prepare for the GED. Mr. Volponi lives in New York City.

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