Thursday, February 16, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

In late 2016, while many children's literature junkies were cramming for Mock Newbery discussions, I kept seeing this title pop up. I didn't see this book generating much discussion online, but it was a title that kept appearing places nonetheless. It received 22 votes on the Goodreads Mock Newbery list and currently sits at #14 on that list. Suffice it to say, ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK by Leslie Connor seemed to fly under the radar in 2016 and that, more than anything, is what drew me to the title. That, and the fact that any book whose jacket cover boasts praise from the one and only Gary D. Schmidt (one of my favorites) is a book that deserves my attention!

Eleven-year-old Perry Cook lives an unusual life. Perry was born and raised inside of a minimum security correctional facility in Surprise, Nebraska. Perry is thoughtful and polite and his presence inside the facility has made a positive impact on its residents. To Perry, Blue River Correctional Facility is home. Life is turned upside down for Perry though when a well-meaning district attorney discovers his living situation while preparing for Perry's mom's upcoming parole hearing. Jessica Cook is nearing the end of serving out her sentence for manslaughter. Forced to live outside of Blue River now, Perry must get to the bottom of what his mom is hiding in her story and confession and figure out a way to derail the district attorney's plans of stalling her parole and extending her sentence.

I loved this book! The concept is highly original and the characters were all awesome. Perry's voice is perfect in a polite, socially awkward kind of way. He brings this positive energy and hopeful perspective to every situation and relationship he is in and it rings true to the sheltered kind of life in which he has been raised. Perry finds friendship in Zoey Samuels who is great as well. She stands up for Perry and helps him in many different ways and their friendship feels authentic. Jessica Cook is given her own point-of-view chapters scattered throughout, letting readers know there is more to her story. She is a beacon of light in Blue River and has impacted the lives of every resident in the facility.

My favorite character however, is the story's "villain," Thomas VanLeer. The district attorney seeking to extend Jessica's sentence turns out to be none other than (SPOILER ALERT)... Zoey Samuel's step-father! VanLeer is well-intentioned in his attempt at giving Perry a better life outside of Blue River (Perry moves in with Zoey's family while his mother's parole is delayed) but terribly naive. VanLeer is such a compelling character in so many ways. He's part Do-Gooder. He's part bumbling idiot. He's part public crusader. He's part self-serving. He really does want to help Perry, but is blind to the fact that Perry doesn't need his help. Perry needs his mother. If it weren't for VanLeer's prying, Jessica would be out. Inside Zoey's house, VanLeer is outnumbered as even Robyn, Zoey's mom and Thomas's new wife, sympathizes with Perry. Which begs the question... Given the number of arguments they have over the course of the book, what is Robyn even doing with Thomas?

VanLeer's presence provides the story with some interesting moral ambiguity for young readers to chew on. During Jessica's parole hearing, VanLeer actually raises some decent points worthy of discussion. Should a child be allowed to be raised in a correctional facility? If so, until what age? Who would be responsible if something happened to him? This is an interesting hypothetical that I think kids would have fun debating. I can see some kids seething mad at VanLeer's actions and I can see some kids cheering him on.

As far as the correctional facility goes, there is quite a bit of suspension of disbelief required. I don't have a lot of experience inside facilities like Blue River, but the place seemed way more PG-rated than I would realistically imagine. I know this is a minimum security correctional facility and this is a children's novel so expecting a scene out of OZ or THE NIGHT OF is probably a bit impractical, and I could see the argument that Perry's presence inside the facility has warmed the place, but still, a PG-13 type of setting would've made this a little more believable. I kept wondering if everyone inside Blue River was so happy? Everyone the reader is introduced to is always smiling and high-fiving and hugging Perry. Maybe a glimpse, even a brief glimpse, at the underbelly of the facility, would have made this setting a little more workable.

The theme of redemption is powerful and uplifting though and this coupled with characters I cared about made up for the cheery correctional facility setting. I am also drawn to mystery stories and while this novel is not a straightforward mystery, I found myself flipping pages faster and faster so I could get to the bottom of Perry's mother's case. Her story was compelling as were the stories of other residents of Blue River.

This was a story I wish I would have read earlier in 2016. I could have seen myself getting behind this on Heavy Medal, if anything, for the sake of discussion. The things this novel does well, like establishing a theme and delineating characters, it does better than many other novels I read in 2016. The areas it falls short, would have been interesting to discuss and weigh. Either way, I highly recommend ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely enjoyed this more than I thought I would. Very thorough review.