A book might be as welcome as a blue sky for some prison readers.

It’s a rare thing, maybe, for an author to celebrate her book being locked up. But in this case, going to lock-up means being freed to find a new audience–and getting my book into the Michigan Reformatory library.

I stumbled across the fabulous and quirky Prison Reviews by Curtis Dawkins, who writes for BULL Men’s Fiction. I loved the stories that lead into the reviews–which sometimes have to do with his experience in prison, sometimes not–and Curtis is a smart and uncompromising critic. 

I had my publisher send The Knife and the Butterfly in hopes of getting a prison review, and Curtis rocked my world last week by writing a review of the novel that is fabulous and unlikely in equal parts. A taste of the unlikely:

Surprises are like those scared animals—you have to surprise them by hiding your desire to catch them. You have to wait patiently for them to wiggle through an unseen crack while your mind drifts to dinner. Your hand is cramped from holding the binder twine tied around the stake propping open the oak barrel and your hungover, trap-builder buddy is snoring under a tractor out back. If the critters know you’re waiting, they’re gone, and it might be a coon’s age before they show their anxious faces in those parts again.

And a taste of the fabulous: 

That’s why this book is important. “Important” may be a term used too often in blurbs and reviews (it should only be used when the book could truly save lives), but it’s one I don’t think I’ve used in a review before. It’s easy to see these abrasive youngsters dying on the news and dismiss them as somehow deserving of their bloody death. But, as The Knife and the Butterfly makes clear, they have grandmothers and little sisters who love and will miss them—Regina and Meemaw are two of the most touching characters I’ve read about in a long time. The gang-bangers only want what everyone else wants. They only want to leave their mark on the world—in this case that mark takes the form of tagging the buildings and boxcars in Houston with spray-paint, which serves as a perfect metaphor for the transitory nature of all of our marks.

Check out the whole review. And while you are at it, think about sending Curtis a book yourself. He has a wish list of books he’d like to read and review, but he is also open to surprises, as seen above. All books get a second life in the Michigan Reformatory library for use by other inmates. Notice that books must be sent directly by the publisher or a vender and must be new.


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