TITLE: Death of Innocence
AUTHOR: Peter Meyer
SUMMARY: A quiet Vermont town is brutally upset by the cruel, senseless rape and murder of two twelve-year-old girls. The age of the killers results in a ferocious effort to change the juvenile law that seperates violent children from violent adults.
Considering the TV show Law and Order: SVU is my favorite show, this crime novel was right up my alley. I don't normally get at all squeamish with violence, so I wasn't worried. This is the type of book that first punches you in the gut then grabs you by the balls and doesn't let go until you finish it. It's really captivating, although parts of it are like watching a train wreck. It had me trembling with both tears and fury, sometimes simultaneously. It's horrifically brutal and poignant.
The book is set in 1981-1982. It tells the year-long story of a violent crime and the "justice" meted out. It is written by one of the best journalists of our time, in my opinion, and doesn't just tell of the crime. It describes the criminals so well that you begin to think you know them. But then he uses one anecdote that has everything you thought you knew spinning out of control so that you have to learn the character all over again. He does a great job of emphasizing the point that sometimes, you can't pinpoint a reason for crime. Sometimes, the criminal is just that. A criminal. Sometimes there is no explanation.
The criminals, while violent and completely beyond understanding, are written to be human. You feel you know them, but the way he writes them does not imply good people either. That being said, there are parts of their characters that are horrifying. I really loved the way he portrayed them. It's very odd and troubling when you, for example, hear about a born-again Christian rapist or a murderer/torturer who likes writing poetry, including love poems to a friend in Princeton. The characters are human, they are just humans that are hard to understand.
He challenges the traditional ideas of juvenile crimes and how to deal with them very deftly, and he doesn't have to preach to do it. Concerning this bit, the last two chapters dragged quite a bit, but it made it's point well. He also uses a lot of first-hand accounts and quotes to get everyone's perspective. It reads like an article, but not one that's necessarily just reporting the facts. It definately has a moral, has a point, has a bias. It's point is to challenge the liberal opinion that the best way to deal with troubled teenagers is to parent them. His point is that sometimes, they need harsh punishments, or they get out of control.
He also did a spectacular job at describing and explaining the juvenile crime law and the way they work and why they are that way. It's a hard thing to understand for not-politicians, so that's very good.
At times, it is very hard to read, because they are very explicit with the description of the attack. I couldn't put it down, but when it comes to this sort of thing, I have a considerably stronger stomach than some, so beware. A friend of mine referred to this book as "emotional cutting" when it came to reading it. And it is. It's painful. It felt incomplete at the end, mostly because we never really had an explanation for why the criminals did what they did besides "I felt like it." That's a very unsettling thing. It's not a flaw, because sometimes murderers don't have good explanations.
It's out of print, so browse used book stores, libraries, craigslist, ebay, and what have you.