Indie Spotlight: Mandatory Release by Jess Riley

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Mandatory Release

 

Kindle Edition, 312 pages

Published: July, 2013

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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 kind of 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.

I enjoyed the two main characters, especially Graham. They are quirky and flawed with 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” way one sometimes sees in 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. And 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 resolution seemed to happen a bit too quickly, then the novel ended abruptly. But, overall, it was a terrific read.

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