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Skeleton key

by Jess Mowry

  Print book : Fiction

1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
Learning To Live   (2008-10-01)


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by Timoun

Jarett Ross, a 13-year-old African-American boy in Oakland, California, has been living like a ghost for months, all alone in the darkness where no one can see or hear him. A drug-dealer put the moves on his mom, got her addicted to heroin, and now rules their small apartment in a rotting Victorian house. Jarett's only refuge from the man's brutality has been his tiny room, its door locked by a skeleton key. But, one rainy night even that protection fails him when the man breaks down the door. Jarett fights for his life, and the man falls to his death down a stairwell. Jarett knows that he must run away because the cops will never believe that he acted in self-defense. Bleeding and almost dead himself from the fight, Jarett stumbles through the rainy streets of West Oakland only to find himself at the rusty iron gates of an ancient graveyard. Jarett sits down and waits to die. This seems like his only escape from a world without hope. But he is saved by a homeless boy named Robby who lives alone in the graveyard in a vine-covered crypt. Robby seems to have given up on life outside the graveyard's walls, but he encourages Jarett to try to build a future. The cops are after Jarett, who is questioned and kept under surveillance by a cynical white detective. But Jarett manages to get his mother into a rehab center, and with Robby's help, Jarett begins to hope that he might live again. Meeting a girl named Martin Hawker also gives Jarett hope. Jarett finds that good people are all around, but only if you look for them. But the detective seems determined to bury Jarett in prison, and Jarett's life is not easy. He has to pay the rent and find enough to eat. But he can't legally work because he's only 13. The law won't let him work to make money, but he could always sell crack, which would make more money than any real job. On top of all his other problems he has to deal with that decision. Life for a poor black kid seems so hard. Why not just give up and join Robby forever in a peaceful place of the dead?

This book begins with a violent scene of Jarett being attacked by a man and fighting for his life. But there are a lot of gentle scenes in this book, and Jarett learns how to love people. Learning to love can be hard when you haven't had much in your life. Jarett learns a lot of other things too. Like many black kids he hates cops, but he finds that not all cops are bad. There are many supernatural, spooky, and ghostly elements to this story. There is also a mysterious older boy who runs a funeral home.

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