Title: The Robber of Youth
Author: Keith Julius
Genre: Literary Fiction
This story takes readers along the journeys of Rosaletta Guiterrez, a fifteen-year-old who watched her brother die and was turned out of her mother’s home in the same night, and Melanie Cox, a new Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) who longs to help children navigate the court system and find a better life as a result.
Rosaletta starts as a lonely teenager who hangs out with her brother and his friends, and she becomes more isolated as the story goes on. Melanie tries to connect with her while helping her speak out and understand her rights, but Rosaletta ends up discouraged and agreeing with her new friend, Todd—adults have the system rigged and her best choice is to strike out on her own with him.
But Rosaletta soon discovers that Todd isn’t the kind-hearted young man he seemed, and soon, it’s all she can do to survive the new life Todd has given her. Her only allies are equally troubled women, and her future is bleak. Both she and Melanie must keep up their courage and determination if they’re ever to see each other again.
This story feels more like contemporary fiction—social commentary fiction with a dash of thriller, specifically—than literary fiction, as it doesn’t seem to have the focus on artistry and deep character development commonly found in literary fiction. Overall, it can come across as a bit of a “call to action” story for readers, depicting the plight of the children who CASA volunteers work with and why one might want to join the organization.
The complexity of Rosaletta’s situation is shown nicely, though. Todd is part of the problem, but he’s not alone in causing such an evil to exist, and foster parents, CASA volunteers, and case workers are equally shown as facing challenges rather than being super-humans.
It might’ve been nice if the book’s balanced approach extended further in the area of diversity, though, as it seemed all the minority characters were those in trouble or causing trouble while the foster parents, CASAs, and case workers—those working to make things better—seemed to be all from one particular background.
Similarly, those who have gone through an abusive situation might find this story troubling or flawed, as Rosaletta is depicted as “not thinking clearly” in a way that can come across as belittling and condescending, as though the author writes from outside such an experience rather than from inside it. Similarly, the characters can feel a little flat, but part of this may stem from how the narration focuses more on what they’re doing than on what they’re experiencing and how they genuinely feel about it.
The pacing of The Robber of Youth is excellent, keeping things moving along nicely and alternating scenes from Rosaletta and Melanie’s points of view, and the narration is detailed and thorough, showing all the trials of Rosaletta’s situation. It’s honest and thoughtful while sharing a gripping story that will be enjoyed by readers who like an eventful plot with a good dose of social commentary mixed in.
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