Cover image for Hole in my life
Hole in my life
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
Physical Description:
199 p. ; 20 cm.
Target Audience:
840 L
Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2003
The author relates how, as a young adult, he became a drug user and smuggler, was arrested, did time in prison, and eventually got out and went to college, all the while hoping to become a writer.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader Grades 9-12 5.7 7 Quiz 59167 English non-fiction, vocabulary quiz available.
Lexile Measure:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Item Note
Book 92 GAN 1
Book GAN 1
Book 813.54 GANTOS 1

On Order

Prescott Public Library19Received on 8/18/15



Becoming a writer the hard way

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, where he and his partners sold the drug until federal agents caught up with them. For his part in the conspiracy, Gantos was sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.

In Hole in My Life , this prizewinning author of over thirty books for young people confronts the period of struggle and confinement that marked the end of his own youth. On the surface, the narrative tumbles from one crazed moment to the next as Gantos pieces together the story of his restless final year of high school, his short-lived career as a criminal, and his time in prison. But running just beneath the action is the story of how Gantos - once he was locked up in a small, yellow-walled cell - movedfrom wanting to be a writer to writing, and how dedicating himself more fully to the thing he most wanted to do helped him endure and ultimately overcome the worst experience of his life. This title has Common Core connections.

Hole in My Life is a 2003 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

After penning a number of novels for preteens, including the Joey Pigza books and the Jack series, Gantos makes a smooth transition as he addresses an older audience. He uses the same bold honesty found in his fiction to offer a riveting autobiographical account of his teen years and the events may well penetrate the comfort zone of even the most complacent young adults. The memoir begins with the dramatic image of the author as a young convict ("When I look at my face in the photo I see nothing but the pocked mask I was hiding behind"). The book then goes on to provide an in-depth examination of the sensitive and intelligent boy residing behind a tough facade. Inspired by the words and lives of some of his favorite American authors, Gantos sought adventure after leaving high school. He eagerly agreed to help smuggle a shipment of hashish from Florida to New York without giving thought of the possible consequences. Knowing that the narrator is destined to land in jail keeps suspense at a high pitch, but this book's remarkable achievement is the multiple points of view that emerge, as experiences force a fledgling writer to continually revise his perspective of himself and the world around him. The book requires a commitment, as it rambles a bit at times, but it provides much food for thought and fuel for debate. It will leave readers emotionally exhausted and a little wiser. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(High School) While most award-winning children's book authors will admit to having paid their dues, those dues generally don't include serving time in federal prison. Gantos begins this affectingly candid self-examination with a mug shot taken in 1972, after he had already spent a year locked up for smuggling drugs. It's not a pretty picture, and neither is the period in his life described here. But, fortunately for him and for his future readers, a road paved with dumb decisions led to his career as a writer. A good portion of the memoir takes place before his incarceration, when he was a teenager adrift, desperate to become a writer but sure that he had no material because "nothing interesting happened to [him]." Gantos paints himself as a naïve Jack Kerouac wannabe for whom reading was almost like taking drugs: instead of actively shaping his own life, he'd pick up a book and escape into someone else's. When he was asked to help sail a yacht carrying two thousand pounds of hashish from St. Croix, where his family lived, to New York, he thought he would finally experience something worth writing about. Ironically, the log he kept during the voyage was used as evidence against him at his sentencing hearing. This being a prison story, not to mention a Jack Gantos story, the book is laced with edgy anecdotes, some comic and some not. Without glamorizing his criminal past, Gantos demonstrates how prison-the kind of extreme situation he had thought the writing life required-made him realize he had had plenty to say all along. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Gr. 8-up. Jack Gantos' riveting memoir of the 15 months he spent as a young man in federal prison for drug smuggling is more than a harrowing, scared-straight confession: it is a beautifully realized story about the making of a writer. As Gantos himself notes: "It [prison] is where I went from thinking about becoming a writer, to writing." His examination of the process--including his unsparing portrayal of his fears, failings, and false starts--is brilliant and breathtaking in its candor and authenticity. Particularly fascinating is his generous use of literary allusions to everything from Baudelaire to Billy Budd, which subtly yet richly dramatize how he evolved from a reader who became a character in the books he was reading to a writer and a character in his own life story. Gantos' spare narrative style and straightforward revelation of the truth have, together, a cumulative power that will capture not only a reader's attention but also empathy and imagination. This is great for every aspiring writer and also a wonderful biography for teens struggling to discover their deepest, truest selves. --Michael Cart

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-Gantos centers this memoir on his time as a drug smuggler, focusing on his arrest, conviction, and subsequent incarceration for 15 months in a federal prison. His straightforward account and honest reflection on his journey to become a writer makes for compelling reading. Audio version available from Listening Library. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

"We didn't so much arrive at our destinations as aim and crash into them like kamikaze yachtsmen." So Gantos describes himself as a 20-year-old about to be arrested and imprisoned for smuggling two thousand pounds of hashish from St. Croix to New York City. Young Jack seems to share with his fictional characters-Joey Pigza and Jack Henry-a blithe disregard for the consequences of wild behavior. Readers follow him from a seedy motel run by the great-great-granddaughter of Davy Crockett to a Keystone Kops adventure on the sea, from a madcap escape from FBI and Treasury agents to his arrest and trial, represented by his lawyer, Al E. Newman. This true tale of the worst year in the author's life will be a big surprise for his many fans. Gantos has the storyteller's gift of a spare prose style and a flair for the vivid simile: Davy has "brown wrinkled skin like a well-used pirate map"; a prisoner he met was "nervous as a dragonfly"; another strutted "like a bowlegged bulldog." This is a story of mistakes, dues, redemption, and finally success at what he always wanted to do: write books. The explicit descriptions of drug use and prison violence make this a work for older readers. Not the usual "How I Became A Writer" treatise, it is an honest, utterly compelling, and life-affirming chronicle of a personal journey for older teens and adults. (Nonfiction. YA)

Library Journal Review

As a young man, this Newbery and Printz Honor Award-winning author spent 15 months in federal prison for drug smuggling. Something You (Probably) Didn't Know: Gantos kept his prison diary between the lines of a battered copy of The Brothers Karamazov. When he was released, he had to leave the book behind. It was considered prison property. Why It Is for Us: This cautionary tale contains gritty descriptions of prison life, yet throughout Gantos maintains a sense of humor about his own naivete. Straightforward and sad, this is one unforgettable story.-Angelina Benedetti, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Hole in My Life From my cell window I could see a line of houses in the distance. All week the people had been putting up Halloween decorations. We didn't celebrate Halloween in prison - or, I should say, every day in prison was scarier than any Halloween, so there was no reason to do anything special on October 31st. But thinking of Halloween reminded me of a funny story from when I was in fifth grade. We were living in Kendall, Florida, right on the train tracks. One Halloween afternoon police cars flooded our neighborhood and announced that Halloween was canceled because there had been a prison break upstate at Raford. A couple of guys had hopped a freight and the cops thought they may have jumped off in our area. We locked our doors and turned on all the lights. We pulled the curtains. All night I scampered from window to window peeking out and looking for unshaven suspicious types in striped outfits. Every time a bush rustled in the wind my heart leapt. I saw rugged prison mugs in every shadow. It was the most exciting Halloween ever. The escapees were caught not far from our house and I was disappointed that I hadn't spotted them slinking around.I wrote this story down in my journal. From time to time I wrote down other funny stories and memories about my family and my childhood. It was a relief to write stories that didn't have bars around them. Excerpted from Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.