Breakout by Kate Messner


Goodreads: Breakout
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: June 2018


Nora Tucker expects to spend the summer playing outside with her friend Lizzie and eating Popsicles.  Instead, two inmates break out of the local prison, putting the community on high alert.  Nora has always thought her small town was friendly and safe.  Now she’s not so sure.  Meanwhile, Elidee Jones has just moved to town from New York City.  She doesn’t feel welcome at all.  People are nosy about her imprisoned brother, they criticize her for speaking too loudly, and they seem to make up new rules just for people like her. Told through a series of letters, newspaper articles, comics, and poems, Breakout explores how people can view the same events from different perspectives.

Star Divider


Kate Messner seems to be a favorite among teachers and librarians for her willingness to write about difficult subjects for the middle grade crowd.  Previously, for instance, she wrote  The Exact Location of Home featuring a boy who is homeless and, of course, The Seventh Wish, which illustrates some of the effects addiction can have on a family.  In Breakout, Messner tackles questions of privilege as she narrates the story of a summer through a variety of voices, each one seeing events through their own lens.  While I imagine that some readers used to plot-driven narratives will struggle with the slower pace, Breakout is ultimately an important and thought-provoking work, one well worth reading.

At its heart, Breakout is the story of a small town that considers itself friendly and welcoming.  There is only one local store where everyone gathers.  Most of the men work at the local prison, so the community comes together to cook ham dinners and support local law enforcement.  Pretty much everyone knows everyone else.  When Elidee Jones and her mother move to town, however, Elidee feels the opposite of welcomed.  The students do not understand why she does not want to celebrate law enforcement officers she does not even know.  People refuse her help because she is Black.  Teachers tone police her.  Elidee just wants to be herself and find her voice–but she does not think she can do it in a town where almost no one looks like her.

Through a series of documents including letters, newspaper articles, poems, and comics, Messner chronicles how the girls view each other, themselves, and the community.  Slowly, Nora comes to realize that her town is not as kind as she thought and that she herself  needs to readjust some of her attitudes.  She begins to go to her older brother for information about issues like Black Lives Matter, since he tells her it’s not Elidee’s job to educate her.  Elidee, meanwhile, starts to write poetry modeled on poets of color whom she admires.  In the process, she realizes that she needs to be herself, and not the person she thinks other people want her to be.

Breakout is a character-driven story focused on personal development rather than on action and exciting plot twists.  As such, it will possibly not appeal to readers accustomed to the standard YA fare.  Additionally, some readers may struggle with a story told through assorted documents rather than through standard prose narration.  Personally, however, I found the girls’ stories fascinating and appreciated the way that different types of documents captured different emotions and different perspectives.  Breakout is a very topical book and, as such, sure to appeal to adults searching for reading material for students.  However, it is also an engaging story.

4 stars

5 thoughts on “Breakout by Kate Messner

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