“Unchained” by L. B. Tillit is the story of TJ, a boy who lived in fear of the neighborhood gangs that ruled his life and the parents who abused him. TJ never liked to be described as mean. He never even liked the word mean. But TJ was mean. When he was little, his parents were always so high on drugs that they never paid any attention to him. So TJ would try to get their attention. He would scream and he would hit them, but all that ever did was make them hit him back. So when he met other kids he would treat them as his parents treated him. He would hit them. He never knew anyone he could truly call a friend until he met Kaden Cruz. Kaden took TJ to his house, the headquarters of a neighborhood gang called The Hillside Vipers. TJ’s father tried to warn TJ of the debt he must pay for enjoying the gang’s property, but TJ never listened. Will TJ be forever wrapped up in the gang, or will he find a way to unchain himself from his oppressive life?
The Vipers welcomed him into their gang. They treated him as a friend, as a brother. TJ had never known such kindness from anyone. Then the deliveries started. It began when the leader of the gang, BB, took him aside and asked him to deliver a package. TJ accepted. That was only the beginning of his troubles. TJ did more and more for the gang; then his father died. An overdose of drugs dropped him where he stood. The teenaged TJ was taken away from his mother and sent to a foster home. His life was turned upside down. He was taken to a home several towns away, to a lady called Miss Dixie. Miss Dixie raised other foster kids who had been taken away from abusive families so they could try to begin their life again. TJ hated it. He hated the other kids. He hated Miss Dixie. But as a year went past, TJ began to warm up to his new family. He began to appreciate the new life he had been offered. Then the social worker returned. She said that his mother was going to take him back. TJ was horrified. How could he return to the living hell that was his life? Will TJ be able to readapt to life that he thought he had left behind?
When TJ returned to his mother he hated her. He hated her for bringing him back to the life he had hoped to leave forever. Then Kaden found him. Kaden welcomed TJ back to the Vipers. TJ stopped attending school. All that mattered to him was the gang. He ran assignments for the gang. Rough up a guy here, deliver a package there. The chain tattoo that was the symbol of the gang grew farther around his wrist as his prestige soared. Then, after a rival gang member was beaten to the brink of death by Kaden, TJ wondered if he was really cut out for the gang. He wandered the streets making his way back to the Viper’s house. Right before he got through the back door he heard gun shots. The rival gang had sent a hit and run crew to attack the Vipers. Only one gang member was left standing. How will TJ continue his life with a mother who ignores him and no one to rely on?
I would recommend “Unchained” to people who like reading books with a deeper meaning. This book might not be appropriate for younger kids as it contained some inappropriate themes. It gave me many insights into what it might be like to live such a difficult life surrounded by drugs and gangs. This was a very quick read, and I finished it soon after I started it.
Unchained (Gravel Road)
L. B. Tillit
Saddleback Educational Publishing (2012)
Reviewed by Ben Weldon (age 14) for Reader Views (11/11)