Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review of P.S. Never Give Up Hope by Renata Hannans

P.S. Never Give up Hope by Renata Hannans has the distinction of being the first non-fiction book reviewed on this site.  The compelling and sobering first-person narratives of juvenile offenders in Florida's prison system make this book truly worthy of this honor.

Ms. Hannans first heard the story of "Lil Eddie" from a newspaper article and from students she served as a case manager working in a Jacksonville public high school.  She began writing, and later visiting the teenager, whose real name is Jonathan E. Hartley.  As a 15 year-old, Lil Eddie and a co-defendant were convicted of the armed robbery and second-degree murder of 57 year-old pizza delivery driver Sarah Hotham.  He is currently serving a life sentence in prison and his story opens the book.  Nine other current and former youthful offenders tell their stories in the pages of the book, including an anonymous subject who gives advice to teenagers from Death Row.

Renata Hannans is a native of Jacksonville, Florida, where she lives with her husband and daughter.  She continues her work as a case manager working with students, as well as various other projects advocating on behalf of juveniles in Florida.  To learn more about her, check out the Q & A with her on the Author Interviews page of this blog.

P.S. Never Give Up Hope is at turns inspiring, chilling, and tear-jerking.  The stories of young people gone astray was so engrossing that I finished the entire book in one evening.  The individuals profiled share their stories in as honest, real terms as possible.  While they do explain the circumstances that led up to their convictions and incarcerations (with the exception of the anonymous Death Row inmate), they don't make excuses for their actions.  Instead, they seek redemption and attempt to advise teenagers to avoid the fateful path that led them to their current situations.  Adult readers cannot help but wonder if the lives of these young people have not been thrown away by a system which is increasingly being called out by critics as overly harsh towards juveniles.  A recent  Supreme Court ruling which states that life imprisonment for juveniles for crimes not involving murder is cruel and unusual punishment, provides the slimmest of hopes to some of the convicted as their lawyers scramble to see if the law can be applied retroactively to their clients.  P.S. Never Give Up Hope should rightfully have a place in this much-needed debate that must take place if we as a society are to move forward in finding more progressive, realistic solutions to the problem of juvenile crime.