Gripping and realistic YA? Check. Compelling and diverse characters? Check. A book that’s easy to sink your teeth into? Check, check, check! Based on the real events that led to the overturning on Shawn Drumgold’s 1988 conviction for the murder of a 12 year old girl. Trell is a gripping tale that highlights the power of a daughter’s love, and value of conviction in legal counsel, and the ability of good journalism to expose the wrongs of a justice system prone to prejudice and corruption.
Author: Dick Lehr
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Expected Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Teens & YA
Themes: Family, Murder, Law & Crime, False Imprisonment, Journalism
Features: Downloadable Discussion Guide
My Rating: 5/ 5
From the co-author of Black Mass comes a gripping YA novel inspired by the true story of a young man’s false imprisonment for murder — and those who fought to free him.
On a hot summer night in the late 1980s, in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, a twelve-year-old African-American girl was sitting on a mailbox talking with her friends when she became the innocent victim of gang-related gunfire. Amid public outcry, an immediate manhunt was on to catch the murderer, and a young African-American man was quickly apprehended, charged, and — wrongly — convicted of the crime. Dick Lehr, a former reporter for the Boston Globe‘s famous Spotlight Team who investigated this case for the newspaper, now turns the story into Trell, a page-turning novel about the daughter of an imprisoned man who persuades a reporter and a lawyer to help her prove her father’s innocence. What pieces of evidence might have been overlooked? Can they manage to get to the truth before a dangerous character from the neighborhood gets to them?
I don’t always read a lot about books before I dive into them because I’m always scared that I’ll somehow spoil the experience, so I was absolutely floored at the end when I was reminded that this story was based on the real case of Shawn Drumgold. As I was reading I made a number of notes about how real and raw it all seemed, so the factual foundation really shone through. Lehr’s intimate knowledge of investigative journalism brought depth, perspective, and hidden teaching moments in a way that made me feel like I was joining Clemens and Trell on their journey of discovery.
Okay, so I may have thought Trell was a male for the first few chapters, but once I got my head in the right place everything seemed to fit perfectly together. I think having a fourteen year old girl, who has only ever known her father as a convict, was an incredibly powerful perspective to write from. I appreciated that the same narrator was maintained throughout, as it was an incredibly personal story and yet still had the ability to encourage the consideration of the impact of actions and empathy for others. Without a doubt some of the most touching moments were when Trell, so steadfast in her father’s innocence, was coming to terms with the fact that her father had a criminal past and there were a good many things that he was indeed guilty of. It reminds us that sometimes good people make bad choices, but that doesn’t make them an easy scapegoat for major crimes.
And while this story is very much about Trell and her quest to gain her father’s freedom, it about so much more! We see the redemption of Clemens as he comes to grips with the loss of his own son, the evolution of Nora as she transforms from a recent graduate to a criminal defence lawyer, and the reformation of Detective Boyle as he realizes that complacence can be the greatest crime of all. All in all, Lehr’s narrative highlights how politics and a flawed justice system can come together to create the perfect storm, breeds contempt and indignation, and contributes to redlining. I genuinely feel that Trell will quickly find a place in middle and high school curriculums as it touches on so many heavy hitting issues, and should seriously be considered for YA book clubs as there is much discuss.
Would I recommend this book? Oh hell yes! Trell is gripping, well written, and provocative. It’s the kind of book where you can’t help but rooting for Trell while simultaneously becoming enraged with the failings of a system that is supposed to uphold justice. Filled with courage, determination, and enough twists to inspire those OMG moments that keep pages turning.