Mandatory Release by Jess Riley
Published: July, 2013
Format: Kindle E-Book
Recommended By: Jennifer at The Relentless Reader
Recovering from a devastating experience and the end of a long-term relationship, Drew returns to her parents' home and accepts a teaching position at the prison where her mom works.
Here she struggles with many challenges. Resistance from inmates who are deeply damaged and chemically unbalanced, struggling with addictions, and riddled by hormones. Unmotivated students. Violent outbursts leading to fights, with other students cheering and egging on the combatants.
Except for the venue, it sounds kinda like middle school.
At the prison, Drew meets her old high school friend Graham. Recently divorced and paralyzed in a car accident, he is struggling with loneliness and finding that his disability presents a barrier to dating. As they struggle with their old wounds and the challenges of working with inmates, they are gradually drawn to each other.
This novel is basically a romance, a genre I don't generally enjoy. However, the prison setting and promise of dark, snarky humor was enough the incite me to buy it.
I enjoyed the two main characters, especially Graham. They are quirky and flawed, an intriguing combination of resilience, humor, and raw, aching vulnerability. I appreciate the fact that this author allowed her male protagonist to -- frankly -- be a bit of a dick sometimes. Not in the "I'm too much of a sexy, cool alpha male for my own skin" kind of way one often sees in men the men who populate romance novels. In an angry, sad, yearning, very human way. That was one of the things I liked most about this novel, they way it captured that sense of longing.
The narrative is heavy on humor, sarcasm, and pop-culture references. Many of the pop-culture references went over my head. What cave was I hiding in during the 90's and 00's? Oh right ... I was busy procreating. :-) By the way, this author also seems to be a big film buff, which earned an extra measure of respect from me.
This was a fun, quick read, but with parts that are thoughtful, sad, and dark. Drawing on the author's experiences teaching inmates, it reflects truths about the prison system.
My main complaint is that the inevitable resolution, when it came, seemed to happen a bit too quickly, then the novel ended abruptly. Maybe this is a common attribute of this type of novel -- as I mentioned, it's a genre I rarely read -- that I am just not used to.
Final Verdict: Thumbs up, and this is a good summer read.