Summary: When Michael gets out of jail after his wrongful conviction for the murder of his girlfriend Lisa, he finds that trying to go back to life as it was is impossible. Even though he has been exonerated, people still believe he is guilty and treat him differently. His struggle to land on his feet is supported by his grandmother Phyllis, the kindness of strangers and the former friends of Lisa, but figuring out what to do next takes some time. A poem from Lisa and letters from the person who really killed her end up giving him some direction.
Number of Pages: 267
Age Range: 16-18
Review: Lesley Choyce is a talented writer. This is the third book I’ve read by him, and the second one on my Marathon of Books list. There is something about the way Choyce’s mind works that intrigues me. He continually puts teen characters in what seem to be extraordinary situations but then writes a reality-based stories about how the situations would play out. It’s rare that a reader feels uplifted at the end of one of his books, but Choyce deserves respect with his logical approach to writing.
His characters are gritty and unapologetically real. When The Book of Michael ended the way it did, I was angry, but Choyce’s build-up was impeccable. Even though I was displeased, I believed Michael would make those choices. I had the same experience with Dumb Luck by Choyce. It is simply the beauty of a Choyce book.
This is a book about how one teen survives being wrongfully convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, but it is also the first teen fiction book I’ve read that features bibliotherapy. Michael’s primary activity while in prison for six months is reading. From F. Scott Fitzgerald to the great Russian novelists to the Bible to the I Ching, he reads it all, looking to find meaning and direction for his life. He learns to identify his feelings of loneliness and his need to connect with others through the stories that he reads, and in the end his empathy and capacity to forgive far exceeds that of many other characters in the book. I loved it.
I would recommend this book for older teen readers with the disclaimer that it is not for those looking for a light read.
“‘When your grandfather died, Michael, I felt like everything was unfair. It was like there was no justice in the world and there were no rules. I started seeing things differently. It changed me. In some ways I was better off for it.'” – Phyllis from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 15
“I understood even then, at sixteen, that sex was a powerful, emotional thing. It was a pleasurable thing and it was a dangerous thing. But if two people were in love, what was to hold them back?” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, pages 105-106
“When I was released, some people used the phrase that I could ‘pick up my life where I left off.’ But those words were hollow. It could not possibly work that way. One thing was shattered. Another thing began. What was needed was a new beginning. But that would not be easy.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 109
“Reading was this gift that Lisa had given me. Sure, I knew how to read but she had a passion for it. She was already well beyond anything our teachers were teaching us. When it came to reading, she consumed everything. Her words, not mine. But they fit. She’d sample broadly from any book in the library she could get her hands on. She believed in books. I can almost say it was her religion.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, pages 121-122
“Two main motivators, however, the real things that make people want to do it and, for some, actually do it are these. Numero uno. You want out; you want it all to stop, to go away. And number two. You want to manipulate the world; that is, you want revenge, you want to hurt or you want someone to recognize, after your death, the way it really was.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 130
“No. My suicide riff was not a cry for help. Humanity’s cry for help began with the first words ever uttered. We want someone or something to save us. We want to be protected. We want to be in a safe place. And we want to be loved.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 133
“That was the best I could do to let her know I was going to be okay without her, that I’d find others to help me sort out the painful threads of my life. And I understood that life is about change, it is a book of changes, a book detailing what we find, what we cling to, and what we lose. And then, for those who learn how, we move on.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 209
“Something lined up in my head just then. Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Kazantzakis, something Phyllis had read to me from her I Ching book and more. Some coming together of idea, emotions that had to do with that longing, that loneliness, that hurt that never really goes away. Let’s call it human suffering. But it was attached to something else. The need to connect, sometimes even the need to reach out and help someone else in need. A chill went down my spine and I could not speak.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 214
“When you are sixteen, you expect to live forever, you expect that nothing bad will happen to you, no matter how far you push it. You think the adult world is a dull conspiracy of lies, propaganda, rules, and limitations all created to ruin your good times and your oh-so-important explorations of the body, the mind, and the soul.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, pages 222-223
“We know how to accuse and prove guilt and how to convict. But we know so little about the healing process beyond that. And we don’t know how to contain the widening circle of pain caused by the death of someone who is loved.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 242
“In talking with Miranda in Woodvale, I began to understand what the old saying meant. There but for the grace of God. Or Fate. Or Luck. Or Circumstance. I grew to understand that a few more steps in the wrong direction and I too could have been a murder.
And here’s the point you don’t want to hear: So could you. So could anyone.” – Michael from The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce, page 261