After having great luck with my last prison memoir figured I’d try another one. Its bright yellow cover with Che Guevara-like author’s portrait made it very hard to pass up when I spotted Hole in My Life last week at the public library. Had I known that the book’s author, Jack Gantos is an established children’s writing and his memoir Hole in My Life was written with for a young adult audience, I might have passed on it. But luckily for me I didn’t. I ripped through Hole in My Life in what felt like only a few days. Probably because I loved it.
Since its publication back in 2002, the memoir has enjoyed an almost cult-like status among YA readers, high school teachers/librarians and especially those who work with at risk youth. And why not. As Gantos narrates his life story you see him go from a lazy, juvenile delinquent to an international drug smuggler. This brief criminal adventure earns him a short prison sentence where a stroke of good luck gets him a cherry work assignment in the prison’s infirmary. While serving his sentence he’s able to hoodwink the admissions department of a small college into letting him attend their college once he’s released. Later he attends college, graduates and goes on to be a professional writer.
I think the primary reason I enjoyed Gantos’s memoir so much is it’s damn funny. Just like Mark Richards did with his memoir House of Prayer No. 2 and Thomas Glavinic did with his novel Pull Yourself Together Gantos paints himself as a likeable loser. He knows it and you know it. Yet he keeps doing stupid things. And it pays for it. But in the end, he learns from stupid decisions and grows as a person.
I guess it’s not totally accurate to call Hole in My Life a prison memoir since roughly only a third of the book covers the time he spent incarcerated. But that’s more than OK. By recalling the adventures of his misspent youth (not to mention the lack of strong parental guidance made worse his father’s idiotic career choices while Gantos was growing up) you kinda understand how Gantos entered the fast-paced and exciting world of international drug smuggling. (I say those words sarcastically. The people Gantos associated with during his brief life of crime almost to the last man were complete idiots.)
Why did like Hole in My Life? Let me count the ways. One, it’s funny. Two, Gantos writes well. Three, because he learns from his experience he grows as a person. For those three reasons and probably others I have no qualms recommending Hole in My Life to readers of any age.