Ruby on the Outside, by Nora Raleigh Baskin published in 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
The children we glimpse at the park, pass anonymously at the grocery store, sit next to on the subway — inhabit profoundly varied life stories.
Here is one of them, that of Ruby Danes, age 11, whose mom is in prison.
Ruby cannot remember the life she shared with her mom before prison. She was just 5 when her mother was arrested in a confusion of spotlights and shouting voices. All Ruby knows is the tumultuous mix of fierce devotion to that mother, and silent shame from having an incarcerated mom; the normalcy of weekly prison visits, and the code of silence on the subject she has developed to keep anyone from knowing her terrible secret.
When Margalit walks into her life, however, and Ruby has a chance at having a best friend for the first time ever, she slams into an unyielding wall of scary questions:
Can you have a best friend if you don’t share the most important piece of your life?
Would anyone truly accept her, if they knew her mom was in jail?
Can she love her mom, yet hate her for the pain-soaked life she has handed her?
Is she just like her mom on the inside, as well as the outside?
Nora Raleigh Baskin has written an honest, sensitive story, ushering us into the experience of millions of children who have an incarcerated parent. She dives into the emotional chaos of Ruby’s heart while keeping this short novel within the comfort zone of children ages 10 and up. And she provides an excellent starting point for conversations about loss, shame, anger, abandonment…and true, life-changing, friendship. It would make a great book club read for a group ages 10-13.
Oddly, this book is surprisingly poorly proofread. There are many mistakes in the text. At first I wondered if the author was creating an unusual “voice”, but no, there are just words missing in quite a number of places. If you hand this to a child, you might want to let them know that to ease any confusion.