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Letters from the Inside    by John Marsden order for
Letters from the Inside
by John Marsden
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 1996 (1992)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

John Marsden tells the story of two teenage girls uniquely through their communication via postal mail. Tracey from Prescott placed an ad in a magazine, inviting interested parties to write to her. Mandy of Acacia Park responds, beginning a daunting and haunting relationship. Mandy's first letter to Tracey begins: 'I don't know why I'm answering your ad, to be honest. It's not like I'm into pen pals, but it's a boring Sunday here ... How come you have a post-office box?' Tracey writes: 'It was quite exciting, getting your letter. I get about one letter a month. My grandmother writes occasionally, and a girl called Jacinta who I met at a writers' camp ... So letters in my life are like sunflowers in Alaska.' Thus begins a journey for two girls who learn about each other through letters as they form a confiding, long-distance friendship.

Questions arise for Mandy as she notes that Tracey has written different versions of her parents' life. Twice Mandy tries to have a message hand-delivered by a foreign exchange student, who is attending a meeting at Tracey's Prescott High, but these attempts fail. The first time Tracey explains it away by telling Mandy that she is quiet and not many people at school know her. But the second time, Mandy learns that the school office has no such person as Tracey in their records. As trust builds, Tracey admits that she is confined in a youth prison named Garrett, and will be transferred to a woman's facility to do four more years. She does not tell the reason for her incarceration, but does share her real family life, a past boyfriend, and how life is on the inside. Mandy tells of her own family, and of a brother who physically abuses her, especially when no one else is around to witness his slaps and punches. (Tracey has some interesting solutions to offer Mandy.)

A reader cannot help but be affected by Marsden's slowly building, intricate story. At first I thought it a mediocre read. But, then a light came on, and my mind grasped that this was something extraordinary. Letters from the Inside is a powerful story, representing two lives that join in loyalty and trust. Just as the story slides into the gate, heading for home, the author leaves the ending to one letter writer, and the reader closes the last page awestruck, puzzled, and pondering.

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