On May 22nd, 1995, sixteen-year-old Jimmy Farris and seventeen-year-old Mike McLoren were hanging out outside Mike’s backyard fort, when four boys hopped a fence and approached them. Within minutes a fight broke out — during which both Jimmy and Mike were stabbed, with Jimmy eventually dying of his wounds. The four boys who hopped the fence, and the boy who drove them, were all put on trial, facing life sentences for murder.
Eve Porinchak’s book, One Cut, part of the Simon True series, details the events of the crime and trial that followed it, and the ways it dramatically affected the lives of everyone involved. One Cut is a heartbreaking and fascinating story, and I found myself shaken by it, so much so that I felt compelled to put together a list of reasons why you should read it too. Take a look, and then check out the book, which we’re currently featuring an extended excerpt of until July 17th as part of our Summer of Consquences! And don’t forget to let me know what you think of it in the comments!
1. It’s YA True Crime
I love true crime — nonfiction stories that focus on actual crimes and the people who were victims of them or perpetuated them. Some of my favorite books are true crime, like Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood. But crime usually happens to and is committed by adults, so most of these books are written for adult audiences. One Cut is about teenagers, and is written for teenaged audiences. There’s not a lot of true crime young adult literature, so One Cut really stands out, and was very exciting to read.
2. It Showcases the Issues within the Criminal Justice System
Even though One Cut takes place in 1995, the dilemma faced by the teens at the center of the story is still tragically relevant. One of the boys accused of the murder, Chris Velardo, didn’t even participate in the fight — he just drove the others to the scene and stayed in the car while it all went down. But he still risked a full murder charge because of the felony murder law in California. Felony murder basically states that if a death happens in the course of a felony, every person involved in the felony can be charged with murder. In my opinion, felony murder is an archaic law and I can’t believe it still exists in many places across the United States. It’s especially damaging to teenage perpetrators, who often lose their right to be tried as juveniles when felony murder is brought into the equation. Knowing about the intricacies of our criminal justice system and the ways it can fail people is extremely important to readers everywhere, especially those concerned about social justice.
3. It’s Educational without Being Dry
One Cut taught me a lot about the criminal justice system — definitions of legal terms and words, the way trials usually run long and are often delayed, the issues with juvenile detention centers, and the way media frenzies can damage the ability for people to get fair trials. But these lessons are never boring, or overly technical. They’re weaved intricately into the narrative of the story. Chapters that take a break from the forward action of the trial to explain, for instance, a cultural fascination on “super predator” teens forming ultra-violent gangs, fit in well, and offer important insight on the reasons the boys in One Cut got the harsh treatment they got — while also informing readers of important information that still affects our beliefs about crime and gangs today.
4. It’s Tense and Affecting
The narrative of One Cut is told slowly and deliberately. From the very first chapter, when the boys hop over the fence to Mike McLoren’s fort, author Eve Porinchak ratchets up the tension. This only intensified as Porinchak went through the trial, describing witness testimony and circumstantial evidence. It was so affecting I found myself speeding through it, both dying to know what happened next and dreading it.
5. It’s a Courtroom Drama
I’ve always been a big fan of Law & Order — particularly the original installment of the show, which focused equally on the investigation of crimes by the police and the prosecution of crimes by the District Attorney’s office. One Cut has a Law & Order vibe to it. It takes place largely inside the courtroom, and the antics of the lawyers make for bizarre and often frustrating drama. One particular scene that struck me as feeling like it was ripped out of a TV show was when the lead prosecutor shouts questions about gang affiliations at one of the defendants — in spite of the fact that gang evidence was deemed inadmissible. The prosecutor repeats the question enough to imprint the idea that the defendants were in a gang on the jury, while avoiding a mistrial by not pressing the issue too hard. At points the trial gets so dramatic that it’s hard to believe it’s real life — which makes the story all that more interesting and heartbreaking.