Elevate Difference

From May to December

From May to December is the story of four women, sisters Lolly and Jen and inmates Nicole and Sonya, whose lives intersect at a women’s correctional facility. As the title suggests, the timeline of the book spans from May to December and each chapter focuses on a different woman’s point of view.

Lolly teaches classes to women in prison. Her current project is a theater class where the inmates write their own monologues, learn to act, and plan out a production. A survivor of a childhood cancer that left her with only one leg, Lolly is a strong, educated woman whose worst nightmare comes to life at the beginning of the book. She once again has cancer, only this time, it’s in her breast. Lolly convinces her older sister Jen, who has always been somewhat resentful of Lolly due to her attention-grabbing illnesses and do-gooder attitude, to help teach the theater class.

A part-time theater professor, Jen is also promiscuous, an alcoholic and a former adult film actress. All these characteristics could have made for a very unlikable character, but Jen’s honest admittance of her mistakes and her actions to correct them, as well as her support for her sister when her illness takes a turn for the worst, make Jen come off as sympathetically damaged instead of disgusting. I was actually surprised at how much I liked the character by the end of the book.

As for the two inmates in the theater class, Nicole is a young coed who ended up in jail for taking the wrap for her drug-dealing boyfriend. She is a talented writer who first catches Lolly’s interest when she enrolls in her poetry class. Nicole’s part of the story is told through excerpts from her “memoirs” that are scattered throughout the book. These passages give insight into not only her life but also those of the other inmates who appear as colorful side characters, the most interesting of which is Viola, a woman who shot her husband after finding him in bed with another woman.

The last of the four main characters is Sonya, a gypsy woman who is serving time for running cons. Sonya has a husband and baby son but while she misses her child, she has no such attachment to her husband, their union being the result of an arranged gypsy marriage. A con-woman by birth, prison has cut Sonya off from the only existence she has ever known and as a result, she begins to question her actions and confront the guilt over the crimes she has committed. To add to her confusion, she has developed a crush on another female inmate named Alice.

While there was nothing groundbreaking or life-altering presented in this book, I was completely fascinated by it and could not wait to see what happened next. The characters were well-developed, and although not entirely relatable, they were at the very least sympathetic. The reasons for the various inmate’s imprisonment, usually related to men, drugs or money, all seemed very realistic and shed some light on the sad situations that cause many women to end up in prison. Entertaining but at the same time thought provoking, From May to December is for anyone who is looking for something a little heavier than the usual summer read.

Written by: Victoria Kroeger, August 22nd 2009