Inside the tiger by Hayley Lawrence
Penguin Books, 2018. ISBN 9780143788959
(Age: Senior secondary) Recommended. Themes: Justice system, capital punishment, social action, friendship, family, grief, loss. Bel Anderson is the 17 year old daughter of the Minister for Justice and has attended an exclusive girls' boarding school in Sydney for the last seven years. Her mother was murdered when she was a baby and her father has made it his mission in life to get justice for victims of crime; he is now campaigning for mandatory sentencing laws. Bel's Legal Studies class is given an assignment to "align yourself with a movement for the betterment of society, the world, yourselves or each other" p 3. She is sick of causes, having been dragged into her father's campaigns all her life so she chooses to write a letter to a prisoner, seemingly the easiest way to fulfil the assignment's requirements. When the prisoner, Micah, on Death Row in a notorious Thai prison writes back Bel finds herself drawn into caring about the 18 year old Australian and his situation, and travels to Thailand to visit him. Knowing she will be opposing her father's position on justice and punishment Bel draws support from her friends, even though they are concerned and caution her about the emotional cost. As she takes Micah's cause to social media and a public rally she widens the debate "We don't allow our own government to execute our prisoners so why should we be silent when it happens to our people overseas." P223. But her actions have some unforeseen consequences.
This first novel is remarkable in successfully weaving together a rarely explored and controversial topic with a complex and challenging coming of age story. Bel leads a life of privilege but the loss of her mother and the preoccupation of her father leave her emotionally vulnerable. Finding a "soul mate" in a Thai gaol helps her find perspective and she grows in maturity as she faces some hard truths.
Recommended for senior students and particularly those interested in social action this novel could be used as a discussion starter on social activism or capital punishment. The "From the Author" section at the end of the book quotes the Foreign Prisoner Support Service "Write to a prisoner. It will make your day, but it will make their life". The story comes from what she learnt from five years of writing to a prisoner on death row in Thailand.