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Book Review: The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff

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Although the title of the book seems to give away the ending, The Death of Jayson Porter surges to a new life after that bleak moment. I’m not familiar with Jaime Adoff’s work, but the premise of this novel caught my attention. Judging from a quick survey of the other books he’s written, Adoff spends time presenting tales about urban, biracial boys trapped in harsh worlds, but this book is actually bigger than that.

Jayson Porter is a young teen who has a black father hooked on crack and a mother that spends her time with an avalanche of boyfriends and alcohol. Given the terrible neighborhood he’s in, Jayson doesn’t stand a chance at a decent life. His mother is a Jekyll and Hyde who loves him one moment and physically abuses him the next. Unable to depend on his mother, he works at a car lot detailing vehicles under an abusive boss who taunts him with firing him nearly every day. The bus Jayson has to take to go to work crosses gang territory and his light skin marks him as a target. He spends every day trying to gather the courage to leap from the 18th floor balcony and end it all.

I don’t usually go for bleak novels filled with despair, but I have to admit that Adoff kept me turning pages on this one. The prose is short and punchy, paragraphs separated by a lot of space, and headers in heavy black font throughout that beckon the eye.

The narrative style (first-person) lends itself to constant introspection and allows Adoff to bring his readers up to speed regarding situations and other characters. Reading the book is almost like eating potato chips: I didn’t get really engrossed in the narrative, but continuing to read was just too easy. Adoff also discloses Jayson’s life in a random manner as well, going back and forth in time, and even stepping sideways to bring in additional story material.

I enjoyed the book overall because Adoff definitely has a grip on his characters and the urban landscape. I’ve never lived in an inner city environment, or with the troubles that Jayson has, but I got a distinct taste of all of those with this book. Adoff wields his prose wickedly, constantly smashing the reader between the eyes with his vision of reality (which is all too real for a lot of people).

The language in the book is harsh and from the street. The adult situations around Jayson fill his days with sex and drugs, but Adoff never portrays those things in a positive manner. They’re landmines that Jayson has to constantly avoid while other people fall prey to them.
Ultimately, as bleak as the tale is, there is a brief respite of redemption and hope, but the reader has to wade through an ocean of despair to get there.

I recommend the book to aggressive inner city school libraries and to ones that want to show a harsher life to suburban high school readers that are interested in seeing what else is out there. The prose is written on a low reading level (RL), but the interest level (IL) is high.

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