by Walter Dean Myers is a novel narrated by 14-year-old Reese, a boy placed in a juvenile detention center for stealing a prescription pad. Reese is smart, polite, and dedicated to his little sister's education, but he struggles against an unfair system of racism and a world that doesn't believe in reform. HarperCollins published the book in 2010.
As the story opens, Reese is starting his first day of a work program at a nursing home. He is handcuffed in a van, monitored by Mr. Pugh. He's been at Progress, a juvenile facility, for 22 months.
When Reese arrives at Evergreen nursing home, he meets his supervisor and begins picking up trash. Reese is desperate to do well here so that he can qualify for an early release. He notices, as a black kid, that the residents at the home are mostly white and make racist comments, which he good-naturedly ignores.
Back at Progress the next morning, Reese hears that Diego, the center's bully, is planning to fight 12-year-old Toon. Toon is younger and smaller than the other kids and Reese is worried about him but fears that any interjection on his part will mar his good record. The next day, Toon arrives at breakfast having been badly beaten.
Because Toon cried during his beating, he failed his initiation into the gang and a new inmate, and a more serious offender, named Cobo, convinces Diego that he needs to kill Toon. Reese tells Diego to leave Toon alone.
At breakfast one day, Reese notices that Diego and Cobo are planning to harm Toon. Reese orders Diego to sit down. Mr. Pugh is supervising but leaves the room in the hopes that Reese will fight and lose his spot on the work program. A fight between Reese and Cobo ensues, and Reese is sent to a detention cell for a day. Reese doesn't lose his work privileges, but Mr. Cintron, an overseer sympathetic to Reese's plight, makes it clear that he's on thin ice.
Reese gets a letter from his little sister, Icy. Icy is in the fourth grade and is working to qualify for entrance into a good charter school. She tells Reese that someone was shot in the neighborhood again and that their abusive father came to the house to ask for more money.
At Evergreen, Reese is assigned to spend time with an ill resident, Mr. Hooft. Mr. Hooft asks who Reese raped or murdered, and Reese explains that he stole some prescription pads for a drug dealer who turned him in. Mr. Hooft says that he doesn't like "colored people."
That weekend, Reese's mom and sister visit him at Progress for the first time. Reese's mom is a junky, but Icy is academically-inclined. She tells her brother about how she'll be the first woman president. Reese's father doesn't come, which doesn't surprise Reese because the last time they spoke he told Reese he wasn't his son.
Reese's mom wants him to join a program for youths released from prison. He finds out later that she'll receive a payment if he signs up. She also wants his brother, Willis, to join the army and Reese thinks she's probably after his enlistment bonus. After his family is gone, he witnesses Toon's parents treating him poorly.
A new inmate called King Kong arrives and threatens Reese. At Evergreen that day, Reese tells Mr. Hooft about King Kong, and Mr. Hooft tells him about his time in a boy's camp during WWII. Hooft had a bully at the camp and when the two fought, one of the Japanese soldiers killed the bully. Reese offers to help change Mr. Hooft's bandages and discovers the man has a hole in his leg.
During a basketball game, King Kong and Reese get into a fight. Later, King Kong tries to fight Toon and Reese trips and punches him. Mr. Pugh separates them and knocks them around a little. Mr. Cintron then speaks to King Kong, Toon, and Reese and explains that the other inmates don't want Reese to succeed. Reese is given detention for five days.
When Reese gets out, Toon tells him they're like brothers. He talks about his real brother, who died.
One of the juvenile officers takes Reese to a police station where he's read his rights, questioned and informed that he's facing 20 years. The drug dealer Reese sold the prescription pad to lied and told the police that Reese was a drug dealer as well. The cops are trying to pin the death of a girl who overdosed on Reese. Reese goes back to Progress having admitted to nothing, but the police call and harass him, making him sick with worry. The investigation is later dropped.
Toon's release date approaches. That night, he attempts suicide as he'd rather die than go home to his parents. Reese visits him and tells him they'll spend time together on the outside.
Reese has his hearing for early release. Despite having Mr. Cintron on his side, his release is denied. He has four months left, but Reese is aware that his crime has far-reaching consequences. Reese expresses his desire to pay for Icy to go to college.
In the epilogue, Reese has been out of Progress for a year. He stays in touch with Toon, his mom is still a junky, and his brother Willis is in jail. He continues his work at Evergreen to support Icy. Mr. Hooft has died and left him the silver soap dish he once accused Reese of wanting to steal.
A prominent theme is the difficulties that people born into poverty and conflict face when trying to rise above their circumstances. In group therapy sessions, the inmates discuss how they will be unemployable upon their release and may be forced to return to a life of crime.