No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row
by Susan Kuklin
Publishing Information: Henry Holt and Co.: New York, 2008
Pages: 316 p.
Ages: 14 & Up
In depth interviews with teenage prisoners who have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution on death row provides a powerful look at life behind bars, the effects their decisions have had on themselves and others, and their personal views on the death penalty itself.
No Choirboy takes readers inside America’s prisons, and affords interviews with inmates sentenced to death as teenagers. In their own voices—raw and uncensored—they talk about their lives in prison, and share their thoughts and feelings about how they ended up there. Susan Kuklin also explores capital punishment itself and the intricacies and inequities of criminal justice in the United States.
"Between 1990 and 2005, only eight countries in the world still sentenced people younger than eighteed to death for their crimes -- Iran, China, Nigeria, the Deomcratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, and the United States of America." -- Susan Kuklin
Imagine, you’re a young slave in the household of an ambitious and unscrupulous couple. They are loyalists who have grown rich under the rule of the British government. They have treated you badly and have sold your little sister to a new owner far away. While running errands for them, you have been befriended by a slave boy who works for the rebels who are fighting for independence from Britain. The rebels want you to spy on your owners. They promise freedom. So, you linger at doorways and listen while loyalists eat their dinner and plot the assassination of General Washington. If you bring the rebel Colonel Regan the evidence he wants, will you win your freedom and find your sister?
|Subject Headings & Major Themes:
Death Row Prisoners
Juvenile Justice System
Awards & Reviews:
Bank Street College, Outstanding Merit, 2009
Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2009
Bluegrass Award (Kentucky) Nominee, 2010
Chicago Public LIbrary Best Books, 2008
Children's Book Council/National Council of Social Studies Notable Books, 2009
Cooperative Children's Book Center of the Univeristy of Wisconsin's Choices, 2009
Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee, 2011
International Reading Association Notable Book for Global Society, 2009
James Cook Book Award, Short List, 2009
Kansas State Reading Circle, 2009
Kirkus Best Young Adult Books, 2008
New York Public LIbrary Stuff for the Teen Age, 2008
Sequoyah Award (Oklahoma) Nominee, 2011
School Library Journal Best Books for Children, 2008
Tayshas Reading List (Texas), 2010
Young Adult Library Services Association Best Books for Young Adults, 2008
Young Adult Library Services Assocation Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, 2009
Book Links, January 1, 2009
Booklist, September 15, 2008
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Septemeber 1, 2008
Horn Book, April 1, 2009 (Starred Review)
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2008
School Library Journal, September 1, 2008 (Starred Review)
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, October 1, 2008
Discussion Questions and Ideas:
- Should juveniles who commit capital crimes be tried as adults? No Choirboy begins with a quote by Bryan Stevenson: “Are you the sum total of your worst acts?” What does this quote mean to you? How do you think it pertains to a book about youths on death row?
- Roy Burgess Jr. read classical literature while incarcerated. He really enjoyed listening to Shakespeare’s Hamlet on NPR and reading the play. Look up Hamlet in Shakespeare for Students. What themes would Roy most likely associate with his own life circumstances? Explain your answer.
- Roy ponders the purpose of the death penalty. He asks whether the death penalty is for prevention, to protect society, punishment, or vengeance. Do you feel that the death penalty is used for one of the reasons he mentions?
- What was the most important thing anyone did for Roy, and why was it so meaningful him? What is a life lesson that can be learned from his story? What are some things Roy wanted that he said most people take for granted?
- Mark Melvin speaks about the murder he committed that sent him to death row. Does he take responsibility for his actions? Use examples from his statements in chapter 2 to support your answer.
- Considering Mark's background, were the odds against him when it came to being a "good" kid? Why do you feel that way? Describe his transition from "good" to "bad."
- Nanon Williams writes letters to the journalist Susan Kuklin and closes with “In struggle.” Why do you think he uses this closure in his correspondence with her?
- Nanon felt that his identity was stripped away once he entered prison. What are some of the examples he uses to support this? According to Nanon, what are the reasons behind the stripping away the identity of the prisoners?
- On page 114, Nanon states “the id runs rampant.” Using World Book Online, search for psychoanalysis. Who founded psychoanalysis? What is the id? What does Nanon mean in his statement about the id running rampant in prisons?
- In your opinion, did Nanon get a fair trial? Defend your answer. Why was race brought into the trial? Why is Nann so intent on being different?
- On page 138, attorney Walter Long paraphrases the law that is used to instruct jurors to make 3 specific, sequential findings when deciding the death penalty for a defendant. What are these 3 questions? Use the 3 questions to determine whether or not Napoleon Beazley should be sentenced to death. Use examples from the chapter to support your answer.
- What does it mean to have a jury of your peers? Do you think Napolean Beazley had a jury of his peers? Defend your answer with statements from chapter 4.
- Walter Long mentions that a 2002 United States Supreme Court case called Atkins v. Virginia may have an impact upon whether juveniles should be given the death penalty. Research the facts about Atkins v. Virginia and the 2005 U.S. Supreme court case Roper v. Simmons. List the outcomes of these two cases. How are these cases similar? How did the Atkins v. Viriginia impact juveniles facing the death penalty?
- Napoleon’s last words were: “No one wins tonight. No one gets closure. No one walks away victorious.” What do you think he means? Explain your answer.
- Descripe Napoleon's character and how this affects his behavior in prison.
- Focus on one of the family members from chapter 5. How did this person cope with the loss of William Jenkins? List specific examples from the book.
- Bill Jenkins was against the death penalty. What reasons does he provide to support his decision?
- Bill Jenkins volunteers at the Victim Impact Panel. Their group uses the slogan: “Hurt people hurt people.” What is the meaning of this statement? Use evidence from the book to support your answer.
- Bryan Stevenson asks if the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. What is stated in the Eighth Amendment? In your opinion, does the death penalty violate the Eighth Amendment? Use research and examples to support your answer.
- On pages 185-192, Stevenson discusses the reasons he decided to take on death penalty and prison issue cases. What are some of the reasons he provides?
- Are we able to determine, justly, what punishment people deserve for their worst act?
- What obligation, if any, does society have to those who commit horrible acts?
- Is the death penalty ever justified?
Author's Website - http://www.susankuklin.com
Cruel and Unusual Punishment Under the Eighth Amendment - http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/cruelunusual.html
Death Penalty Information Center: Juveniles and the Death Penalty - http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/juveniles-and-death-penalty
Oyez: U.S. Supreme Court Media - Atkins v. Virginia - http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2001/2001_00_8452/
Oyez: U.S. Supreme Court Media - Atkins v. Virginia - http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_03_633
USA Today: Supreme Court strikes down death penalty for juveniles - http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-03-01-scotus-juvenile_x.htm
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About the Author:
Susan Kuklin is the author of more than thirty books for young readers and a professional photographer whose photographs have appeared in Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She and her husband live in New York City.
After hearing a talk given by Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney, about the death penalty, author Susan Kuklin decided to write this book.