Hole in My Life
By Jack Gantos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Summary: Author Jack Gantos tells his own “youth-gone-wrong” life story in Hole in My Life. This short book is a page turner.
Review: If someone offered you money to help sail a drug-filled boat from the Caribbean to New York City, hopefully you would say “No.” In 1971, Jack Gantos agreed to do just that – and ended up in federal prison. He recounts his story in the engaging Hole in My Life.
I came across Hole in My Life in a local thrift store and paid 50 cents for it, even though I had never heard of Jack Gantos or his book. It turned out to be the best sort of find – a great book that seemingly arrived out of the ether.
Gantos had an odd childhood, during which his father constantly changed jobs and moved the family. Approaching his senior year of high school, Jack found himself helping his father work in Puerto Rico. The family decided to send Jack back by himself to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, so that he could get his degree. Gantos’ story of his senior year is engaging – he stayed alone in a fleabag motel and attended Sunrise High which – no joke – had just been converted into a school from a prison.
After school ended, Gantos was uncertain about his future. He schemed to sell drugs with a friend who was a student at Florida State University. Suffice to say, their plans went awry and – eventually – Gantos found himself in Key West during a hurricane. The narrative of Hole in My Life “wanders” a bit in this section, but the book holds your attention.
By this time, Gantos’ father had relocated to the Virgin Islands and Jack went to St. Croix to help his family. The Islands were experiencing racial tensions between the few wealthy whites and the many impoverished blacks. As a result, Gantos’ father had little work in the construction business. Hole in My Life does a terrific job of describing island life in the early-1970s.
Eventually, Gantos and his father began building moving crates for the many whites who were trying to ship their possessions back to the U.S. mainland. A hippie wanted a crate with a compartment in the bottom and – you guessed it – the compartment was for drugs. Jack “fell in with” the hippie and eventually agreed to help in his smuggling operation.
What follows in a mixture of adventure on the high seas, incredible bumbling, intrigue in New York City, and the inevitable comeuppance. Gantos engages the reader throughout and the book never loses its drive.
Come to Grips
I don’t have many complaints about Hole in My Life. If I were to quibble, I would argue that Gantos needs to be more remorseful about his involvement drug smuggling, given the misery that smugglers create.
A Parting Shot
Hole is My Life is an easy, quick read with plenty of “hooks” to grab you – coming of age, drugs, sailing, and prison. At 200 pages, it’s the perfect way to spend a few hours.