Monday, August 28, 2017



Real stories. Real teens. Real crimes.

A group of teens traffic drugs between Mexico and California in this start to the brand-new Simon True series.

It’s 1971 in Coronado, a small southern California beach town. For seventeen year-old Eddie Otero, a skilled waterman and avid surfer, life is simple. Then a buddy makes him an offer: Swim an illicit package across the border from Mexico. The intense workout is dangerous. Thrilling. Lucrative. And the beginning of a small business.

When the young entrepreneurs involve their former high school Spanish teacher, the smuggling adventure grows into a $100 million dollar global operation.

Soon they become fugitives. Living on the edge, they vow to return to their normal lives — right after one last run…


I've developed a interest in true crime stories so I was curious when this one was sent to me by the publisher.  This particular book revolves around the efforts of a group of teenagers and young adults who became drug smugglers.  Eddie Otero and Lance Weber started out small, with Eddie swimming packages of drugs from Mexico to the beaches just off their home town of Coronado, California.  At first Eddie does it mostly for the thrill, but as the money starts coming in they start recruiting others, including a former teacher, Louis Villar.  Villar uses his charm and language skills to quickly take over the operation.  Throughout the 1970, the group known as the Coronado company grows in both the amount of drugs smuggled and the amount of money coming in.  But excessive spending, hubris, and carelessness, eventually lead the Company into serious trouble and those involved are forced to decide just what they are willing to do stay above water.

Nichols has created a fascinating account of a group of people using their talents to make money without consideration for the effect their actions have on anyone else.  Millions of dollars are made and spent while tons of drugs are turned lose on the American public.  But as with most things in life, there are consequences to the choices being made.  The book covers a couple of decades of choices, made by the smugglers and the DEA agents hunting them.  The story of the Coronado Company is a compelling look at choices, accountability, friendship (or the lack thereof), and hubris as well as greed.

In terms of content, the book is definitely high school and above because of the following content: drugs and drinking (there is lots of this, although it isn't described in detail, the author focuses on the actions of the smugglers rather than their debauchery), sex and promiscuous behavior is mentioned throughout the story (Lou Villar is rather a ladies man) but not graphically described, and there is quite a bit of swearing and profanity.


The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives 


One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren't for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.


There are events in life that become gateways to the future in major ways. The fire that occurred on the 57 bus on November 4, 2013.  Two young people's lives would never be the same as a result of the decision that was made.  I appreciated the way that Slater gives a brief overview of the event before digging into the lives of Sasha and Richard (last names not shared in order to provide privacy).  By the time the author circles back to the fire and the consequences I felt like I knew and cared about both Sasha and Richard.  This depth gives the fire more meaning and makes it all the more tragic. Not only do we as readers follow the experiences of both Sasha, the one who got burned, but also Richard the one who committed the crime, but we see the event through the eyes of the media, the courts, and family and friends of both Sasha and Richard.  The author gives a nice background into Sasha's agender identity as well as a brief introduction to different sexual and gender identities, which was helpful in understanding Sasha (who the world tends to see as a young man) and why the skirt Sasha wore became a target of Richard and his two friends.

I found the story of Sasha and Richard and what happened to them (and where they are up to the publication of the book) rather compelling. The short chapters make this a good book for YA reluctant readers.  I think one of the most powerful aspects of the book is the author's ability to share both Sasha's experiences and Richard's.  It makes it hard to completely condemn Richard for a moment of sheer stupidity as he gives in to peer pressure as well as the unfairness of his two friends never getting charged, even though Richard wouldn't have done what he did without them egging him on.  The court system and its strengths and weaknesses play an important role in the story as does forgiveness, redemption, and second chances.  The nature of the story means that rough language, and mature content relating to gender, sexuality, and bullying all come into play, making this book most appropriate for high school and up.


Real stories. Real teens. Real crimes.

A backyard brawl turned media circus filled with gang accusations turns a small, quiet town upside down in this second book in the new Simon True series.

On May 22, 1995 at 7 p.m. sixteen-year-old Jimmy Farris and seventeen-year-old Mike McLoren were working out outside Mike’s backyard fort. Four boys hopped the fence, and a fight broke out inside the dark fort made of two-by-four planks and tarps. Within minutes, both Mike and Jimmy had been stabbed. Jimmy died a short time later.

While neighbors knew that the fort was a local hangout where drugs were available, the prosecution depicted the four defendants as gang members, and the crime as gang related. The accusations created a media circus, and added fuel to the growing belief that this affluent, safe, all-white neighborhood was in danger of a full-blown gang war.

Four boys stood trial. All four boys faced life sentences. Why? Because of California’s Felony Murder Rule. The law states that “a death is considered first degree murder when it is commissioned during one of the following felonies: Arson, Rape, Carjacking, Robbery, Burglary, Mayhem, Kidnapping.” In other words, if you—or somebody you are with—intends to commit a felony, and somebody accidentally dies in the process, all parties can be tried and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, even if nobody had any intention of committing a murder.

What really happened that day? Was it a case of robbery gone wrong? Gang activity? Or was it something else?


I haven't had much contact with the United States Justice System and after reading this book, I am sincerely grateful. Justice isn't always just.  After the fight between six teenagers ends with one boy dead, the lives of everyone involved change forever.  As the author does a great job of showing, the intentions of the four boys who came to see stab victims Mike McLoren and Jimmy Farris are widely assumed to be that of robbery and murder.  The author goes through the series of events that occurred that day in May 1995 from the perspectives of both Mike McLoren and his friend, Jimmy, and the four boys who came to Mike's fort for drugs.  A major part of the debate that arose once the four boys were charged was did they come to buy marijuana or steal it.  If they came to buy, Jimmy's death looked like manslaughter, which would have had the four boys out of prison in 5-12 years.  If the incident was viewed as a robbery (which is how the prosecution saw it), the death became a murder, which could mean life in prison or even death.

A case like this results in a lot of strong emotions coming out and as a reader I felt some of those emotions.  The grief of Jimmy's family that lead them to condemn the four boys (Micah, Jason, Tony, and Brandon) and their driver (Chris) completely.  The sorrow of the boy's families as they watched their loved ones face complete condemnation and the assumptions and wrong information that went with it.  The major irritation I felt as the judge and jury took the word of an untrustworthy witness who'd changed his version of events over and over (Mike McLoren).  The anger I felt at the whole incident being connected to gang activity that scared the jury into requesting police protection, even though there was no proof of actual gang involvement.  A judge who showed no mercy, who let the verdict stand despite evidence of jury misconduct.

I found this to be both a fascinating book to read and a hard book to read.  To read about the tragic consequences of young people using drugs and alcohol about broke my heart.  To read about the awful punishment that the five boys received and to feel that it was not just punishment for what amounted to an accident in the heat of the moment in which all six boys participated.  What the book does supremely well though is demonstrate the power of seemingly small, insignificant choices and the power they have to change one's life forever.  One inch more or less and the knife would have missed Jimmy's heart and Jimmy Farris would still be alive, and four boys wouldn't be sitting in jail with little to no chance of every being free again. 

Note: Content wise it's pretty much what you would expect: swearing, teenage drinking and drug use, brief reference to sex, and the brief violence that lead to Jimmy Farris's death. 

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