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A Life for a Life: A Novel
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About the Author

ERNEST HILL is Writer-in-Residence at Southern College. A LIFE FOR A LIFE is his second novel.

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D'Ray Reid, the hero of this initially suspenseful but ultimately frustrating coming-of-age novel, undergoes a miraculous transformation and emerges in the end a new man after some crime-filled years. D'Ray is 15 when a local drug dealer threatens to kill his younger brother unless he comes up with $100 within an hour. Panicked and desperate, D'Ray decides to hold up a convenience store‘but, in the process, he kills another African American teenager who tries to foil the holdup. He escapes and makes a living as a pimp before he's caught and sentenced to six years in jail. Needless to say, D'Ray comes from a dysfunctional family. Hill's (Satisfied with Nothin') depiction of an African American family trapped in poverty in rural Louisiana is stark and candid. He has a sure hand with pacing and he renders pitch-perfect dialogue that instantly establishes character and fuels the plot with tension. It's only when D'Ray goes to jail and finds God (with guidance, incredibly, from Mr. Henry, the father of the dead clerk) that he becomes an unbelievable character and the novel drifts into hokum ("`Come home with me,' Mr. Henry said. `Be a credit to your race.' `The next Thurgood Marshall,' D'Ray mumbled contemplatively"). The workings of grace may be mysterious and difficult to foreshadow; in this case, they are simply hard to swallow. Author tour. (Aug.)

Dennis A. Williams "author of "Crossover" and "Somebody's Child" In "A Life for a Life, " Ernest Hill presents a compelling fable of despair and redemption -- and an enduring image of the power of fatherhood. Robert L. Harris, Jr. "Associate Professor of African-American History, Cornell University From a tale of tragedy, Ernest Hill poignantly extracts a compelling story of the love, faith, integrity, and perseverance that have sustained black families and that have been the central ingredients in transforming boys into men. Robert Olen Butler "Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain""A Life for a Life" is a dazzling and profound tale of cosmic fate and social forces, of violence and forgiveness and redemption. With this novel Ernest Hill clearly establishes himself as one of our finest writers. Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D. "Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Judge Baker Children's Center "A Life for a Life" is an engrossing book, an inspiration to black youth who often must cope with a crime- and drug-infested environment. D'Ray's transformation is a tribute to the strong kinship bonds that have sustained the black community. Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D."Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Judge Baker Children's Center "A Life for a Life" is an engrossing book, an inspiration to black youth who often must cope with a crime- and drug-infested environment. D'Ray's transformation is a tribute to the strong kinship bonds that have sustained the black community. Robert L. Harris, Jr."Associate Professor of African-American History, Cornell University From a tale of tragedy, Ernest Hill poignantly extracts a compelling story of the love, faith, integrity, and perseverance that have sustained black families and that have been the central ingredients in transforming boys into men. Robert Olen Butler"Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" "A Life for a Life" is a dazzling and profound tale of cosmic fate and social forces, of violence and forgiveness and redemption. With this novel Ernest Hill clearly establishes himself as one of our finest writers. Dennis A. Williams"author of "Crossover" and "Somebody's Child" In "A Life for a Life," Ernest Hill presents a compelling fable of despair and redemption -- and an enduring image of the power of fatherhood.

YA-D'Ray Reid's younger brother, Little Man, is held hostage by drug dealers for smoking their drugs without paying. The ransom is $100, which D'Ray must deliver within an hour. Robbing a convenience store nets him the money but also causes the death of the young clerk who tries to stop the crime. D'Ray then runs for his life. His fugitive status leads him to more and more criminal activity until his eventual arrest. Conviction of first-degree murder lands him in the Louisiana Youth Authority prison until his 21st birthday. Ignored by his own family, D'Ray's only and constant visitor is Henry Earl, the slain boy's father. Henry is the teen's sole hope for the future but D'Ray must forgive himself before he can accept forgiveness from others. Richly crafted characters, plus themes of violence and fugitive life, will keep YAs riveted to this coming-of-age novel.-Katherine Fitch, Rachel Carson Middle School, Herndon, VA

D'Ray Reid lives with his mother and younger brother in a small town in Louisiana. He's angry that his mother is having a serious affair with a cop and saddened that she dotes on his younger brother, Little Man, while telling him repeatedly that like his father he will get into trouble. The prophecy comes true when D'Ray saves his brother's life from a crack dealer by robbing a store, killing another young black male who tries to stop him, then running away, leaving a trail of deceit, pain, and death in his wake. Yet when he's finally locked away, the father of the young man he killed visits and becomes the father D'Ray never had. Hill describes D'Ray's dismal, violent life in straightforward prose and nearly too clean-cut dialog, narrating the tale from D'Ray's viewpoint but calling on other characters to lend their voices to discussions of racism, poverty, and affirmative action. The inspirational ending, however touching, just didn't work for this reviewer. Not essential but worth considering for YA collections.‘Shirley Gibson Coleman, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., Ann Arbor, MI

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