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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 be


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

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

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"With down-to-earth language based on his own experiences . . . Volponi captures the reader." -VOYA

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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Rikers High 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about a boy named martain who was sent to jail for answering a question. Heis sent to rikers island while he waits for conviction. Rikers island has mostly blacks and hispanics. He is sent to mod 1. When his trial is canceled for the thrid time, he gets hurt and is sent to #3 and meets kids theie. When he gets there, he finds out that there is a high school there. It is so if kids get out they can make something of themselves. Maartain meets a no good thug and a few friends. Martain also meets mean COs who hit the inmates for no reason, but no one reports the abuse. Martain also meets some one who gives him hope: a teacher. He helps martain. But he iis also upset by what happened to him before he got moved #3. He wants revenge, but will her decide to hurt the kid who hurt him? I thought this was a really good book. I liked the way the author wrote about everyone and that it was kinda funny.
NilWafer More than 1 year ago
Rikers High was a new type of read for me, being a realistic fiction novel. Paul Volponi did an excellent job on writing this novel. I believe that working on Rikers Island helped him write this story because he was able to use his experiences and put them into stories about the characters. I felt that I was able "get into" the story because it was about teens that are my age. In the story Martin Stokes is falsely convicted on a drug charge and put into Rikers Island Prison. Martin is stuck with a lawyer that does not particularly care about him or his case because she is a lawyer that is provided by the state. Because of this he has trials that fall through and he is not able to get into the court for his hearing. On the bus ride back to the prison he is caught in the middle of an inmate fight that contained a razor. During the fight, he is sliced across the face and is scarred for the rest of his life. While at the prison he interacts with the other prisoners and becomes good friends with two characters, Ritz and Sanchez. The three friends become closer as the story goes on, until a few days before Martin is scheduled to go home a tragic event causes things to spiral out of control. By the end of the book I was not able to put it down because I wanted to know what happened to Martin and what was going on inside the prison. I enjoyed reading this book and I will look for more books written by Paul Volponi.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jhildred More than 1 year ago
My Review: Characters: Paul Volponi creates authentic characters in Rikers High. Martin the main character is brought to life through the descriptions and interactions with other characters. Ritz, Jessup, Sanchez, Brick, and Shaky are all inmates in Rikers. These characters each play a significant role in developing the authenticity of the novel. Paul Volponi pulls from his background knowledge to create this range of characters. In addition to the inmates, Volponi does an excellent job creating a divers group of teachers and COs. I appreciate, as a teacher myself, the attention to the diverse teaching style of each of the teachers. Not everyone good, not everyone bad reflects the truth of teachers in a school. Plot/Conflict/Theme: Martin, 'Forty', is cut when he gets in the middle of an attack on another inmate. This inciting incident causes Martin to be removed from the main jail and moved to the Sprung. While at the Sprung, Martin is forced to attend school, at first reluctantly, then he began to enjoy attending classes at the jail high school. Throughout the novel, the inmates encounter various conflicts all depicting the difficulty of surviving each of them bring Martin back to his attack. Martin receives a letter from his father warning him not to fall into the traps and holes that keep inmates in prison for longer if not for life. Martin struggles with trying to avoid the traps and holes because of his conflicted desire for revenge and for freedom. Quality of Writing: For the most part Paul Volponi's writing is interesting, but there are weak parts in his writing. The vocabulary for instance is lacking and slightly boring. "Dudes and Herbs" were over used terms to describe other inmates. The lack of variety in word choice cause the reader to loose interest in the story, even though the plot and characters are interesting. Rating: Book: A for Average Cover: A for Average Review taken from my blog: Ink Slinger's Index
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TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Author Paul Volponi's real-life experience working with kids behind bars is the inspiration for RIKERS HIGH. His work teaching adolescent inmates to read and write help give this novel a realistic tone that will speak to teen as well as adult readers. Martin is weeks away from being released from Rikers Island. He earned his time there for giving an undercover cop information about where to buy drugs. Even though he viewed it as an honest mistake, he was in handcuffs outside his front door before his mother had time to get out the door to ask questions. As Martin tells his story, readers learn about life in the Rikers Island prison system. After spending some of his time in the adult population, Martin is moved to Sprung #3, which houses juvenile offenders. These young inmates attend school and hopefully spend their time in more productive activities than the older prisoners, but life is still rough and they face daily challenges - from uncooperative fellow prisoners and corrupt corrections officers. Martin describes the violence, the "business" some inmates conduct to profit from their fellow prisoners, the mistreatment at the hands of those in charge, and the homesickness and worry about family members on the outside. All of this combines to create a tense, stressful environment where young men are still expected to learn in the classroom and maintain control of raging emotions. Martin tries to keep his nose clean and focus on his release date, but he knows one wrong move or bad decision could end with a longer sentence and possibly a move back to the adult population. Trouble with his lawyer and a vicious attack that leaves him with a disfiguring facial scar make staying focused a real challenge. Martin's determination to return to his family and make the needed changes in his life makes his a truly inspiring story. Paul Volponi has a real following among teen readers, and when they learn that RIKERS HIGH has a real-life connection to the author's own experience, it is sure to be a popular read.