Strong at the Broken Places
by J.T. James

"If, in the heat of combat, you can think clearly when all those around you are losing their minds, you probably haven't grasped the seriousness of the situation."

From the childhood slums to a federal penitentiary, this autobiography is a series of misadventures that would leave Huckleberry Finn speechless. The reader first meets John James as an almost 13-year-old boy with aspirations to join the armed services so that he can help his mother feed his siblings. Naturally, the recruiter turns him away and instead John continues his self-appointed apprenticeship in a life of crime. The author writes about his numerous mistakes with unflinching honesty, although he can't help but garner sympathy, given that he became a thief simply to feed himself.

Throughout the story, the protagonist runs from one deplorable escapade to the next that one can't help but wonder just how he managed to survive his childhood. Eventually, he manages to join the U.S. Marines, albeit by lying about his age. Leaving behind a pregnant girlfriend and a dysfunctional family, John heads off to the jungles of Vietnam to try his hand at a different sort of survival.

Traditionally, rags to riches stories are intended to be inspirational. But from James' bleak childhood to his hellish experiences in Vietnam to his eventual incarceration in federal prison, this book reads more like a morality tale. The author readily acknowledges that he has made a string of bad choices that resulted in unfavorable consequences, but certainly, his impoverished childhood did not give him a great start in life. Although this is a rags to riches and back to rags story, there are some lessons to be learned here. Chief among them are that life never turns out as expected and that, no matter what bumps in the road may appear, a person's inner strength may surprise even himself.

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