I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Breakout by Kate Messner
Published by Bloomsbury Children's Books on June 5, 2018
Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek--two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town's maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.
Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics--a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project--Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who's really welcome in the places we call home.
I had the pleasure of getting an eARC of Breakout by Kate Messner via NetGalley, and while it took me a while to read, I have to say that I genuinely adored every page. I wasn’t expecting a lot – middle grade thrillers are usually pretty weak – but I was pleasantly surprised by just how nuanced and multifaceted this book was.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Breakout is told in a largely epistolary style, with other forms of media (comics, transcribed audio interviews, text messages) sprinkled in. The premise is this: Wolf Creek Middle School is putting together a time capsule, and the seventh graders are tasked with filling it up with assorted things (letters, mementos, etc – you know, the usual time capsule stuff). Our main character Nora is a reporter for the school paper, so she chooses to view this as a journalistic opportunity, and writes about the important things in her life – her best friend Lizzie, her mom and dad and her two brothers. Wolf Creek is populated largely by a huge, centralized prison that employs the vast majority of adults, including Nora’s father, who is the warden. Field Day is coming up – it’s early June, and in Wolf Creek school gets out in mid-June – and everyone is abuzz with talk of the big race taking place that goes back generations. Nora’s biggest worry is not winning that race like her mother did, and her older brother.
But everything changes when two prisoners escape from their cells and are on the lam in Wolf Creek.
We get a third perspective as well, Elidee, a young African-American girl whose mother is a nurse and whose father passed away when she was very small. Her older brother is in prison in Wolf Creek, and so she and her mother moved here to be closer to him. Elidee is used to New York City proper – the gritty, downtown feel of it, not this upstate New York bourgeois. Before leaving the city, Elidee’s school got to go see a production of Hamilton, and it’s been burned into her brain. She is in love with poetry and the written word, and struggles greatly in Wolf Creek because she is part of one of two – count ’em, two – black families in her school. Elidee’s mother works long hours, and she spends her free time writing poetry reminiscent of Hamilton, and Black Girl Dreaming. Elidee is such a sweet character, and her developing bond with Nora and Lizzie is organic and flows well.
On top of the “hey there are two convicts on the loose” issues, there runs a thread of race relations. Nora and Lizzie’s world views are challenged when they are asked to leave their backpacks at the front of the local convenience store – something they’ve never had to do when Elidee was not in tow. Elidee also does not want to thank the local police for their service in helping find these escaped convicts – what’s up with that? Why would Elidee not like the police? There is no shortage of teachable moments here, folks.
The Bottom Line
Kids who read this book will learn about everything from peaceful protest to rumrunners (the speakeasy guys, not the alcoholic beverage). There is no end to the information hidden within this book’s whopping 400+ pages, and let me tell you – it was worth every single turn of the page. I absolutely adored Nora, Lizzie and Elidee, and I reveled in their successes and felt the wind sigh out of my lungs at their defeats. Whether they are cub reporting at a press release, running a relay race, or baking cookies, you’ll be enamored by these characters and their quiet life together in Wolf Creek. I recommend a trip there, too – just make sure you don’t go in June or you might run into an escaped prisoner.