Wow. That was moving. It was most certainly difficult to read at certain parts, namely through the abuse that these 4 young boys endured, especially if you consider that this is supposed to be based of real events that happened to the author and his friends. I guess there was some controversy with that, some people claiming that this was not based on true events, but I'm not here to speak of that one way or another. Either way I think this was a powerful, emotional journey, and I am glad to have read it.
I loved how this book was split up into three separate parts, the beginning which gave you a look at who these boys were, their individual home lives, and the neighborhood they came from, which was almost a living breathing character in itself.
Then the middle was the time they spent inside Wilkinson Home for Boys, where the horrific events that changed their lives forever took place.
After that came years later with all the boys having turned into men, and you got to see the how changed these people truly are after the events that took place in that year they spent in the Hell that was Wilkinson. And you also got to see a glorious plan of vigilante justice unravel.
There were so many elements that made this story as incredible to me as it was. I really enjoyed how their hometown, Hell's Kitchen, was portrayed in this story.
You were completely immersed in this place with the characters, which truly felt like it was a world of it's own, separate from the rest of us, with it's own way of living and rules to live by. It was comparable to reading a good fantasy novel, with amazing world building, and I was very impressed by it. I also loved these characters, I feel in love with these goofy, mischievous boys after just a few chapters. And reading about their suffering broke me. It was so crushing hearing the atrocities they lived through, and it brought out my own desperate want for vengeance. It's a pretty solid accomplishment for an author to blur the lines of right and wrong for the readers, and those lines were obliterated in certain aspects in this novel. I rooted for their thirst of blood from the men that had taken so much from them. I ended this book honestly thinking that those monstrous guards at the Wilkinson Home for Boys deserved so much worse than they actually got, and that's something because I'm a pretty peaceful person.
It was such an emotional journey, alternating between filling my heart up with love for some of these characters, and hate for others. This story definitely made you question a lot of things though, can vengeance make a difference? Does it even partially fill the hole that was carved in you in the first place? When is the time to take things into your own hands, is it your right to dole out your own form of justice? Can one event change the entire course of your life? What about one poor decision?
The relationships in this book were beautifully portrayed. They were enduring of so much. Too much. I also loved Father Bobby, and even King Benny. And then there were the more quite characters, like the English teacher in Wilkinson who gave Shakes the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, or Marlboro man, the guard who saved them at least one indignity, that made such an impact, even though their actions and appearance in the book in general were so small. You couldn't help but hold onto those small good things. They were a ray of sunshine on the bleakest of days. They gave you a sliver of hope that some people are good, they care.
The ending was rather bittersweet to me. I wanted so much more for these people than they ultimately got. I would definitely recommend this novel, to EVERYONE! Seriously, you should read this, it's an incredible story. Now I'm kind of dying to see the movie, Robert DeNiro, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon and Dustin Hoffman, that's an all-star cast for sure! And now I'll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes...
"I'm beggin' you," he said, his voice breaking, "Try to forgive me. Please. Try."
"Learn to live with it," I told him, getting up from the table.
"I can't," he said. "Not anymore."
"Then die with it," I said. looking at him hard. "Just like the rest of us."
"It doesn't take very long to know how tough a person you are or how strong you can be. I knew from my first day at Wilkinson that I was neither tough nor strong. It takes only a moment for the fear to find its way, to seep through the carefully constructed armor. Once it does, it finds a permanent place. It is true for a hardened criminal as it is for a young boy."
"Do me a favor, would ya, Ness?" Davenport said, putting the gun in his pocket.
"I ever make it onto your shit list, give me a call," he said. "Give me a chance to apologize."