Review: True Notebooks by Mark Salzman

true notebooksThis was a book I picked up a few years ago at a book sale, and due to the large volume of books in my domicile, I’m just getting around to it now. Honestly. I think I have a hoarding problem, specifically with books. My mom just bought me a shopping bag full of books over Easter weekend. Thanks mom! Now to build an addition on to my house to have a place to put these!

This is a non-fiction work, although Salzman has taken certain liberties with the dialogue. It’s the story of how he came to be a writing teacher at a juvenile detention facility, and how his class provided some insight into the lives of the boys behind bars, as well as the criminal justice system that sometimes fails these kids.

The book is basically what you’d expect it would be – excerpts from the kids’ writing, a bit of backstory. With shows like “Orange is the New Black” in the forefront of pop culture today, the injustice described within doesn’t seem as shocking. It’s sickening – yes. It’s unfair. And Salzman does a great job of humanizing the boys. Some of them are lifelong criminals who should spend significant time behind bars. Others made mistakes and have shown remorse, yet they don’t get the chance for freedom they may deserve.

The class itself is a revolving door. By the end of the novel, only a couple of the original students remain. The time period covered in the novel is about one year. Many of the boys went on to prison. None were released. But, Salzman was able to provide them with an outlet for some of their feelings, frustration and deeper issues with family. And we were able to see these boys not just as a statistic, but each as individuals, with lives some of us can’t imagine.

You might think the message would be crammed down your throat, but Salzman is not preachy. He shows. He doesn’t tell. You can draw your own conclusion about the kids in his class. I thought it was nicely done.

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