We Were Kings
– Court Stevens –
Published 1 February 2022
I do love a good murder mystery and We Were Kings is a jolly fantastic murder mystery. Despite the elements of modern life (masks, hand sanitiser and YouTube) it has a very classic feel. Maybe it’s just because the mystery is in the past, or maybe it’s the setting and overall feel. Classic mystery at its best.
Nyla has lived her whole life knowing her mother loves the woman sitting in jail more than she loves her. When Frankie’s death is pushed forward thanks to a new death penalty ruling, Nyla’s mother falls apart. When a journalist drops a clue that Nyla’s mother might not be who she has always said she is, Nyla decides to investigate and finds herself in the midst of a murder investigation. If she is going to save Frankie and find the real killer, she’ll need to be quick. But no one wants her poking around, especially not the real killer.
We’ll Fly Away – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 8 May 2018
Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.
But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling.
We’ll Fly Away is a well-written, hard-hitting YA novel with important messages about poverty, child abuse, the justice system, and friendship. I knew We’ll Fly Away would be heartbreaking. I also expected it to be raw, upfront, exposed, and almost crude. It certainly is an unflinching book, with threads of hope (but mainly heartbreak) and a positive message.
Luke and Toby are best friends – the only ones to see inside the truths of the other’s life, the only ones who could understand. But Luke struggles to maintain his wrestling record for a college scholarship with his mother’s ever increased neglect and caring for his two younger brothers, and Toby falls into a relationship with an older woman while continuing to face his father’s abuse. Events will come to a head as the boys fight for their friendship, their future, and their freedom.
The Row – J.R. Johansson – Farrar, Straus, and Giroux – Published 11 October 2016
A death sentence. A family torn apart. One girl’s hunt for the truth.
Seventeen-year-old Riley Beckett is no stranger to prison. Her father is a convicted serial killer on death row who has always maintained that he was falsely accused. Riley has never missed a single visit with her father. She wholeheartedly believes that he is innocent.
Then, a month before the execution date, Riley’s world is rocked when, in an attempt to help her move on, her father secretly confesses to her that he actually did carry out the murders. He takes it back almost immediately, but she cannot forget what he’s told her. Determined to uncover the truth for her own sake, she discovers something that will forever change everything she’s believed about the family she loves.
Who suffers in the aftermath of a horrible crime? The victims? The victims’ families? The man who may have been wrongly charged and imprisioned? The perpetrator’s family? The Row gives an inside look at the cost of defending your family, even when the world says they are unworthy, when the world judges you along with the guilty.
Riley’s father is on death row for a series of murders he says he didn’t commit. Riley has never doubted his innocence. To her, he is her father. The smart and kind man who taught her chess during her weekly visits and wrote her a letter for everyday she couldn’t visit him. But with his execution date drawing near, Riley’s father unexpectedly confesses to Riley. He retracts his confession, tells Riley it was only to help her move on, but the only thing Riley knows now is that he has lied to her – she’s just not sure if the lie is about being guilty or innocent. When she meets Jordan, the son of the man responsible for putting her father in jail, Riley is surprised to find she enjoys spending time with him. Together they attempt to discover the truth about Riley’s father once and for all.
It is interesting to have a story told from the guilt party’s family’s perspective. If you are looking for a book that supports the victims’ families then look elsewhere, because this is Riley’s story. She is just as much of a victim in what appears to her to be a faulty justice system and a world in which people seek to punish her along with her father.