Fourteen-year-old Reese Anderson is in trouble. It's not that he's grounded or anything ordinary like that; it's more of a serving-years-of-an-actual-prison-sentence type situation. Reese messed up bad, and he doesn't live in a world that's inclined to give him a second chance. Lockdown is the story of him trying to find one anyway.
When we first meet our narrator, he's been in Progress, a juvenile jail, for almost two years. As the first member of the facility's special work program, and with an early release seemingly on the horizon, Reese almost seems like a model inmate. See, dude gets into fistfights—like, a lot of fistfights. And if he doesn't learn to control his temper, he may end up getting transferred to another, tougher, facility—or worse, he might leave Progress in a body bag. Gulp.
What Reese comes to realize over the course of the novel is that a regular life isn't something that's just going to happen to him. It's something he has to work for. This may sound simple—and Reese knows that, in theory, it is simple—but there's a lot of stuff standing in his way.
Published in 2010, Lockdown won a ton of prestigious awards for its honest, and often funny, portrayal of teenage life. Though the author, Walter Dean Myers, was seventy-two when the book was released, he felt really connected to his young protagonist, having been a troubled kid himself once (source). Some things change over time, but the difficulty of growing up with major odds stacked against you doesn't.
Some of the world's worst problems boil down to a simple mistake: judging a book by its cover. Lockdown addresses prejudice (especially racism) by taking a series of boilerplate character types and, one by one, turning each on its head to paint a nuanced portrait of human experience.
Our protagonist, Reese, is a teenage boy and an incarcerated criminal. Maybe you think you know the type. Thing is, he's not mean, dumb, or a thug, nor is he a tough guy with a heart of gold; he's just a smart (but confused) kid in a bad situation.
A study in contradictions, Reese is hard working and kind, but he also has a temper that gets away from him. He has the intellectual ability to make the right choices, but sometimes the things he does don't match up with the things he wants to do. In getting to know him, we come to appreciate his humanity instead of writing him off as simply a criminal or a messed-up kid.
The book's other characters are also hard to categorize. Mr. Hooft is racist, but he's not a villain; he's a lonely old man who's lived through wartime atrocities that make Reese's rough life look like a cakewalk. Reese's mentor and advocate, Mr. Cintron, believes in him most of the time—but not always. Even Mr. Pugh, the sadistic prison guard, isn't purely awful. Sometimes he buys Reese candy or offers him advice.
Long story short, the characters in Lockdown aren't one-dimensional. They're complicated, just like the flesh-and-blood people you know in real life. Though we come to understand more or less what makes them tick, sometimes their behavior is unpredictable. Lockdown tells us it's important not to make assumptions about others, or even ourselves. If you look past the surface, you'll often be surprised—sometimes for the worse, but often for the better.
The Author's Website
Oh, yeah. It's official.
The Publisher's Website
Need a sample of the text? Want to check out the book's many awards? Click on through.
An Interview with the Author
Walter Dean Myers speaks about Lockdown on the occasion of its nomination for the National Book Award in 2010.
On Writing Human Characters
The author talks about why it's important to make characters that kids can relate to.
A New York Times Op-Ed
Just before he died, Walter Dean Myers wrote a really moving op-ed calling for more diversity in children's literature.
A Little Background
Walter Dean Myers talks about his childhood in this quick little video.
Walter Dean Myers on Writing
Want to be a writer? Learn more about the author's process.
Walter Dean Myers on Lockdown
They might seem like unlikely friends, but here Meyers talks about the similarities between Reese and Mr. Hooft.
Give your eyes a rest and listen to an excerpt from the Lockdown audiobook.
Meet the Author
Here's Walter Dean Myers having a chat.
Peep the Cover
Here's the book cover, in case you're curious.