All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
HarperCollins, 2016 378 pgs.
Perry has not had a normal childhood. He has spent his whole eleven years living in a correctional facility. Perry's mother entered the facility pregnant with him after accidentally causing the death of her father in a car crash. After Perry's birth the kind warden at the facility made it possible for Perry to stay, eventually leaving every day for school and returning home to his unconventional "family". Perry and his mother long for the day when she is released on parole and the two of them can share an apartment and a life on the "outside". These dreams come crashing down around them when Perry's best and only friend Zoe's stepfather, the county's district attorney, becomes aware of the situation. He is appalled at Perry's unusual living situation and demands Perry's immediate removal, offering his own house as a temporary foster home. Beyond this, the DA is blocking Mom's parole hearing and fighting to keep her in prison. The warden loses her job, Perry is ripped away from the only home he has ever known, and it looks as if Mom is not getting out any time soon. It is up to Perry to discover the truth behind the accident that sent Mom to prison. There seem to be holes in the story and Perry needs to get to the bottom of the case in order to prove her innocence. Meanwhile, Mom is doing nothing to help herself. What is she hiding? We find out as the novel moves along to a final dramatic courtroom scene, where Perry must speak up to defend his little family and the person he loves the most in the world.
As Connor points out in the afterward, children with one or more parents living in a correctional facility is reality for one out of twenty-eight children living in the United States. This book brings to light some of the struggles and and experiences shared by these children and legitimizes their stories. Through Perry we see that people serving time in prison have made mistakes, but still are real people with feelings and families. Mom has made the best of a bad situation, getting her degree while behind bars, trying to be the best mother she can, and helping other inmates adjust to prison life and to prepare for release. Perry is a good natured and optimistic kid. His whole life comes crashing down when he is forced to leave his home and move into a strange house, but he never gives up hope and works hard to achieve the goals for which he aims. Perry and Zoe even befriend the school bully in order to get help with a video project to present at Mom's trial. This book has interesting characters and a good plot. There is a mystery element as Perry discovers Mom's file and tracks down the details of the case. And, best of all, the mystery does get solved by the end as the reader learns the true details behind the accident and Mom's motivation for confessing. Life is complicated and your path can change in a blink of an eye. This is one of the messages delivered by Connor, as well as that people have many shades of both good and bad and aren't always what they seem at first glance. This was an enjoyable story with some good messages, character development and a happy ending. My only complaints are that it was too long and it may have been sewn up a bit too tidely, but kids like a fairy tale ending, so I will forgive this. Kids will be interested in reading a book about a fellow child who lives in a prison and the inviting cover will welcome them in. The light-hearted nature of the story keeps the book age appropriate and upbeat even though the subject matter is gritty and serious.