Author Susan Kuklin’s newest book, No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row, presents the stories of individuals who were sentenced to death or life without parole for crimes committed when they were teenagers, including two EJI clients in Alabama.
No Choirboy gives a voice to those most involved in and affected by crime: three teenagers convicted of murder, the family of an executed teenager, the family of a victim, and EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson. Kuklin, who has written more than thirty books for young readers, conducted extensive research and interviews to create this compelling nonfiction book.
The reader-friendly design and conversational tone of No Choirboy targets teen readers, especially reluctant-to-read boys. Both teens and adults will be deeply affected by the stories of young people who were among the last to be sentenced to death before the United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for children in 2005.
Reviews of “No Choirboy”
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up
Kuklin tells five stories here; four are about young men who committed murder before they reached the age of 18, and one is the story of a victim’s family. Each narrative presents a picture of a troubled youth who did something he later regretted, but something that could not be undone. Within these deftly painted portraits, readers also see individuals who have grown beyond the adolescents who committed the crimes. They see compassion, remorse, and lives wasted within the penal system. Some of the stories tell of poverty and life on the streets, but others are stories of young men with strong, loving families. One even asks readers not to blame his family for his act of violence. Most of the book is written in the words of the men Kuklin interviewed. Their views are compelling; they are our neighbors, our nephews, our friends’ children, familiar in many ways, but unknowable in others. Kuklin depicts the penal system as biased against men of color, and any set of statistics about incarceration and death-row conviction rates will back her up. She also emphasizes that being poor is damning once a crime is committed. She finally introduces Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has worked on the cases of two of the interviewees, who talks about his efforts to help those who are on death row. This powerful book should be explored and discussed in high schools all across our country. -Wendy Smith-D’Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD
Death Row inmates sentenced to die for crimes they committed as juveniles are profiled here, as well as victims’ families, the family of one man already put to death and the lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, an organization focused on the rights of indigent prisoners. Kuklin lets the inmates tell their stories in their own words, providing some minor narration about legal points. Readers may be surprised to learn of the diverse backgrounds of those convicted of capital crimes: Not all came from broken homes or disadvantaged backgrounds. Some didn’t have a criminal record prior to their convictions. This is an excellent read for any student researching the death penalty or with an interest in law and sociology. The author/photographer paints the convicts and their families as neither wholly good nor bad, but human. The convicts themselves speak with a wisdom that can only come from years of negotiating the dangers of prison life, and their stories may change more than one mind regarding what makes a criminal. (Nonfiction. YA)