“When we’re born, we’re sentenced to, like, life. And some of us—I’d be a prime example—are made to do hard time."
So says Annie Ireland, sentenced to a life of trying to live up to her parents’ never-ending expectations. For a long time the only person she can count on for unconditional support is her best friend, Arby, known to the horror and delight of many as “The Roach Boy.”
And then Pantagruel Primo, Esquire, comes into Annie’s life, and just like that, she has another friend, this one ageless and with special powers—and not looking like himself (at all), at first.
Suddenly, as a result of a story she writes for English class, Annie and her friends find themselves sentenced to five days in the county jail and then to an indefinite stay at the Back to Basics Center, a wilderness school for “problem” kids.
After a series of comic misadventures they manage to escape its bizarre, unpleasant clutches, and Annie comes to realize she’s unique and strong and lovable, and that it doesn’t matter what some other people think.
Delightfully ridiculous (but also timely), part fantasy and part real life, Hard Time is a humorous, sophisticated tale about one girl’s struggle to be who she is rather than the person some adults keep wanting her to become.
"When we're born," Annie Ireland told the Roach Boy once, "we're sentenced to, like, life. And some of us -- I'd be a prime example -- are made to do hard time."
She didn't blame that solely on the baby, though.
The baby, or "your baby," as Ms. Beach referred to it when she handed Annie hers, was a life-size doll. All the freshman girls at Converse High who were enrolled in the required Life Skills class were given their own babies to take care of. So Annie had to have the baby with her all day, every school day. Wherever she was, she bottle-fed it, burped it, and changed it, according to Ms. Beach's schedule. It slept through most of Annie's classes, though, a sign of its intelligence, she thought. The baby was an anatomically correct boy who had "nothing to write home about," according to Laird Sediment, a guy in Annie's class who liked to watch and snicker during diaperings.
Annie didn't think she needed Life Skills class. She didn't need to be warned about what would happen if she played unprotected hide the weenie with the Roach Boy, the only male with whom she had had so much as social intercourse. And she didn't have to learn "responsibility." Shit, she thought, if anything, she was too responsible already, too perennially conscience-stricken and turning cartwheels to do better, to live up to her parents' endless row of "We expect's."
Julian F. Thompson is the author of many award-winning books for young adults, among them Simon Pure, A Band of Angels, Gypsyworld, The Grounding of Group 6, Terry and the Pirates, and Hard Time. He founded an alternative school in northern New Jersey in the early 1970s and has been a champion of teenagers ever since he was one. Mr. Thompson and his wife, artist Polly Thompson, live in Burlington and West Rupert, Vermont.