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Publisher's Summary

When Mark Salzman is invited to visit a writing class at Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for Los Angeles’s most violent teenage offenders, he scrambles for a polite reason to decline. He goes - expecting the worst - and is so astonished by what he finds that he becomes a teacher there himself. True Notebooks is an account of Salzman’s first years teaching at Central. Through it, we come to know his students as he did: in their own words. 

At times impossible and at times irresistible, they write with devastating clarity about their pasts, their fears, their confusions, their regrets, and their hopes. They write about what led them to crime and to gangs, about love for their mothers and anger toward their (mostly absent) fathers, about guilt for the pain they have caused, and about what it is like to be facing life in prison at the age of seventeen. Most of all, they write about trying to find some reason to believe in themselves - and others - in spite of all that has gone wrong.

Surprising, charming, upsetting, enlightening, and ultimately hopeful - driven by the insight and humor of Salzman’s voice and by the intelligence, candor, and strength of his students, whose writing appears throughout the book - True Notebooks is itself a reward of the self-expression Mark Salzman teaches: a revelatory meditation on the process, power, and meaning of writing.

©2003 Mark Salzman (P)2003 Books on Tape, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Wonderful...Even the manipulative kids Salzman introduces are stunningly human...Examines a broken system with grace, wit, and gripping storytelling.” (John Green, Booklist, starred and boxed review, August 2003)  

“[Salzman’s] account’s power comes from keeping its focus squarely on these boys, their writing and their coming-to-terms with the mess their lives had become.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review, June 16, 2003)  

Alex Award Winner, 2004

True Notebooks succeeds in adding something fresh, galvanizing and articulate to the overcrowded realm of classroom stories. A candid, involving teacher’s diary...Eloquent...Cogent, thoughtful and honest.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times, September 15, 2003) 

What listeners say about True Notebooks

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Starts slow, ends too soon

Initially, I was unimpressed with the reader of the book. At one point I almost decided to skip listening and move on to another title. I am VERY glad I stuck with it and got past the first hour. I became totally engrossed and actually got somewhat emotional at times. Feeling both good and sad at the events that take place it made me see that I need to appreciate my place in life a bit more.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Funny, witty and honest! Loved the book!!

If you need something that'll make you think a little about life or about a side of society you only hear about on the news, this is the book for you! You'll find yourself driving around just to listen to one more chapter. The characters seem to come to life and you'll wish you knew what "they grew up to be" or where to write them a letter. Some of the language used is not suitable for children, other than that the book is FANTASTIC!

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Profound humanity and incredible writing

I could not stop listening to this book till it ends. It's a wonderful account of Mark Sulzman's experience as a writing teacher for the juvenile criminals. The student's writings were incrediblely honest, eloquent and thought-provoking. Mark Salzman, who is "one of us", lead us the journey of discovery into the psyche of these gang members, and put human faces to these "monsters". The narrator read with proper accents and vocal variation, which made the characters come alive. I found myself crying from time to time, deeply moved by the writings and the stories. At the end, I even went search on the Internet trying to find out tidbits of information on the aftermath of this book. Though this is a sad story, I found it a rewarding experience. Highly recommended.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Eye-opening

Salman's book will lay to rest the stereotypes you had of the young people in Juvenile Hall. Their stories, their lives are heart-breaking, yet Salzman is even-handed in his view, recognizing the reality of crimes they've commited. Narrator does a great job in creating the voices of the boys. A very worthwhile book. Kudos to Salzman for his work.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Unforgettable Journey

This is truly a remarkable audiobook. Written with a powerful style that truly makes you feel the author?s apprehensions and triumphs, frustrations and empathy. Throughout the book I was amazed that the author could bring forth all of these vivid experiences from memory. The author takes us into a world that few of us will ever experience in person. The reader, also, has a wonderful style that brings the characters to life without being overly dramatic. I enjoyed every minute of this book.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Inspiring to another volunteer

I envy Mark his expertise. I find myself teaching myself art projects as I teach my students. I have volunteered for about a year now at the school of a nearby juvenile detention center. True Notebooks has captured the voices of the participants in the writing class, in the staffing of the prison, and in Mark himself. Not only are many of the creations of the students quoted verbatim (and the narration does great justice to the originality and and individuality of the authors) but also the descriptions of students, staff, chaplains, and other volunteers convey so much of the experience. I listened repetitively, often with tears in my eyes.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful book

Salzman explores the complexities of young men, albeit murderers, trying to find themselves through writing, though they are locked up with the key thrown away. The novel is often humorous and always sincere. The dialogue is not forced - it is natural, sometimes crude, sometimes disarmingly beautiful.

A wonderful journey through the lives of teens and the perils of a society that has given up on them.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

An education in reality

Salzman regularly entered an alternate universe where teen murderers marked time as their cases wound through the courts. He paints a picture in your head of what life behind prison walls is like, though this prison is nothing like the penitentiary most of his students are headed for.

Salzman treats the kids with dignity but is neither an apologist nor a judge for any of them.

Beware. You'll be invested in these kids before you know it.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Best Book Read This Year

Mark Salzman needs to be congratulated for volunteering to teach a creative writing class to juveniles in jail for severe crimes (most have committed murder) and being able to share his experiences in this fabulous book. His class becomes an avenue of release for these inmates to vent their frustrations at the system, their horrible family lives and life in general. Of course, he does not ignore responsibility of these kids for choosing to commit these crimes and that they should shoulder the consequences. However, through their own words we get a snapshot into what drove them to their crimes, and how the legal and penal system fails to stop them from becoming career criminals with its emphasis jail time over everything else. It is a must read for anyone.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing book & perfect for listening to

This is just a remarkable book, which will open your mind and leave you caring and wondering about people you probably never wanted to think about before. Salzmann knows how to put himself in the story just enough so that you relate to his struggles, and he does this with a lot of self-deprecating humor and honesty, but he also knows how to then get out of the way and let the stories and the voices of the incarcerated boys he worked with come through, in their own words -- which are sometimes just shiveringly eloquent. Because so much of the story revolves around language and writing and questions of 'voice,' and because the actor who reads the book does such a good job with these aspects of it, it is especially appropriate to *listen* to rather than read.

4 people found this helpful