Breakout by Kate Messner


by Kate Messner
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Nora’s summer is shaping up to be very ordinary, at least until 2 inmates break out of the maximum-security prison her dad runs in their small town in the Adirondacks. At nearly the same time, a girl named Elidee moves to town with her mother so that they can be closer to her brother, who is in the prison. The mainly white town is not very welcoming to Elidee, who is black, and this, paired with the racial issues surrounding the escaped inmates (one of whom is white and one is black), put Nora through an interesting racial coming-of-age. She learns a lot from her older brother, Sean, who includes nuggets of wisdom like, “Don’t burden Elidee with your questions, come to me,” and goes after their father on criminal justice reform. Their father responds by saying things like “I’m not the judge, I just take care of them when they get to me.” There were also some honest reflections like when Elidee complains about white people and how you have to “keep teaching them.” I was intrigued to see that Messner is white and that she consulted some people of color and I wonder what this book would have sounded like written by a black author and with a black protagonist.

Nora’s best friend Lizzie’s grandmother gets swept up in the crime, and that angle is equally interesting and adds new dimensions to the complexities. It’s fascinating to see how Nora grapples with the gray areas – how you can love your uncle the cop and also be wary of cops and how they treat people of color. She does tremendous growing over the summer. Also of note is that the story is told not through traditional narration and dialogue but through a collection of different media that Nora draws on under the guise of submitting it to the community time capsule. Nora is a budding investigative journalist, so she writes her own news articles as well as including CNN reports, audio recordings of conversations, text message conversations between herself, Lizzie, and her family, Lizzie’s parody articles, and letters to the future Wolf Creek time capsule readers, among others.

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