The Free

288p. ebook available. Soho Teen. Feb. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781616957315.
Gr 8 Up—In this gritty story of survival and self-actualization, a troubled youth tries to gain control of his life. Isaac West is a biracial teen who steals for survival—his own and his sister Janelle's. He ends up taking a 30-day juvenile detention rap for a carjacking gone wrong. While navigating the complicated social culture of incarceration, Isaac also attends therapy with an assorted group of teens, and during the sessions, he begins to acknowledge the role of his addicted mother, his sister's safety, and his repressed memories in his choices. Each therapy session peels back Isaac's guarded exterior and defense mechanisms that have been triggered by his traumatic experiences. McLaughlin, whose previous YA titles include Cycler and (Re)Cycler, unrolls a plot with unexpected twists that will leave readers to wonder about Isaac's future. Many will find Isaac a likable protagonist as he seeks clarity and grapples with how to make responsible choices. The supporting characters, mostly other incarcerated teens, are well-developed and create the varying degrees of tension needed for Isaac to face pivotal moments in his life.
VERDICT Recommended as a supplementary purchase, especially where there is demand for stories about incarcerated teens.

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