You guys, I just recently gobbled up Kindness For Weakness by Shawn Goodman which really hit my intellectual sweet spots. I mean, I started this book the same day that I DNFed a contemporary book and basically read all of Kindness For Weakness in a single sitting – including about 88% of the book while I was on the exercise bike. Goodman’s book has a stellar main character and then actually made me think deeply about issues in our society AND made me want to read this classic Jack London book that kept getting shout outs. Y’all, this quiet book was such a great read. I am totally about to get gushy on you all.
James lives in upstate NY – near SUNY Fredonia (shout out SUNY system) with his bartender mom and abusive stepdad Ron. He is only 15 and fairly quiet and contemplative. He’s also a bit scrawny, in comparison with his brother Louis. Louis moved out as soon as he could and has all this money because he’s a drug dealer. So anyways, Louis convinces James to do him a favor and deliver the goods to his clients. Unfortunately, while making a delivery, James, who is not very good at dealing drugs gets caught by the police. As he doesn’t have a good lawyer, he ends up sent to juvie for a year, and so Kindness For Weakness is about James’s time in juvie. It’s a quiet sort of book, but one that just worked so well for me.
As a character, James made me SO sad. Well, no. His circumstances made me sad. Here’s a kid that does not have much good in his life, except for a caring teacher who gives him great books to read. But, I mean, come on he never goes home because he doesn’t want to get hit. His brother uses him for selfish ends. He has no friends and is envious of the nerdy kids because at least they have a bond. He’s so lonely. And misguided. And ugh you guys can I just adopt this kid? For real. Anyways, he goes to juvie and you know, starts lifting weights and exercising. You can see him really change, but I am not so sure the change is for the good.
Actually, Kindness For Weakness really made me think about some in depth themes and society. I KNOW. I mean, I use my brain while I read, but rarely do I ponder the book and what it might be saying about society. Personally, I read Kindness For Weakness as a book that seemed to say incarceration for kids doesn’t work. I mean, we see James go into prison as a kind soul and a good person, who then ends up having to use violence to get kids to leave him alone. I don’t think he would have been in that situation had he not been in prison. We also see him really start to get angry. Same thing with his friend, Freddie. Like, the environment is very homophobia and just not at all kind to kids or helpful for rehabilitation. We see some of the kids go in and out of prison without ever changing. And, it seems that all the hope is beaten out of these kids, both figuratively and literally. Man, just thinking about it, I am sad. ALSO. This book would pair so well with Monster by Walter Dean Myers.
Then, another great thing that Kindness For Weakness does is examine masculinty. James often ponders what it means to be a man. He wonders what is weakness and what is strength. He thinks about it in the context of various males in his life – from his fellow convicts to his teachers to his brother to the corrections officers. It’s very interesting to me – we see guys who are very violent and using that violence to get what they want. Then we see men who don’t do that, but who think and act in a peaceful sort of way. As I was reading, I found myself thinking this book would go so great with the documentary Tough Guise, as both really discuss images of masculinity and how our society defines it.
In case you are dense, I will spell it out for you. I loved Shawn Goodman’s Kindness For Weakness. It actually came as a surprise for me, because I was expecting an okay read that I would devour and forget. Instead, here I am a day later thinking about what this book has to say about society. And then hopping on the twitters talking about how this book still has me choked up — there’s a scene with a therapy dog THE DOG DOES NOT DIE but just that human animal connection really touched me. Straight up, I recommend this book so much, even though there aren’t any swoons or anything, it’s an incredibly intelligent read and one worthy of discussion and talk.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley
Other reviews of Kindness For Weakness by Shawn Goodman:
The Hiding Spot – “I’m glad I broadened my horizons and read this novel”