No Choirboy by Susan Kuklin is stunning. From the first chapter, I was drawn into these stories, angered by the way the justice system has handled these lives. I have always believed in capital punishment, that there are just some people who cannot be rehabilitated and released back into society. I question that belief after reading this book.
No Choirboy begins immediately with the story of Roy and his path toward becoming a death row inmate. There is no introduction by the author, explaining the book or her research process; that actually comes at the end of the book. I would rather have read about Kuklin’s research process before starting the book, but such an introduction might seem boring to a reader looking for the action from the opening pages of the story.
The constant thread running through this book is that one moment, one mistake, can destroy a life, and everyone suffers when someone makes the choice to end a life. Kuklin does an excellent job of showing multiple perspectives: the offenders, the families of the offenders, and the families of the victims. I was struck by the actions of prosecuting attorneys in most of the cases, offering deals to some participants in order to convict others, and how such deals encouraged dishonest testimony. I was shocked by the outright racism of jury members in the Napoleon Beazley case, but I’m sure such racism is not limited to just Beazley’s experience.
No Choirboy doesn’t represent my life experience, but I’m sure it speaks for many people in this country. You may think you know how you feel about the death penalty, but this book will challenge what you believe about right and wrong in the American judicial process.
–Casey O’Leary, reading Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool