Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a slim but poignant account of what it is like to grow up with a parent in prison. Ruby remembers just hints from the night when her mother was arrested; since then she has lived with her aunt Barbara (or "Matoo" as in Ma two). Now approaching sixth grade, Ruby's eyes are opened to the reality that not only will her mother be in prison until Ruby is thirty one years old, but also that her mother took part in something horrible.
Ruby's survival technique has been to keep her secret close to her heart; she has never really had a good friend - at least, anyone who she trusts enough to tell about her mom. But then she meets Margalit, a sweet girl with whom she makes a genuine connection. Margalit has sorrows of her own, and together the two girls forge a real friendship. But, it is not easy to have a close friend when you hold a secret that feels shameful. Ruby constantly must navigate her wish for normalcy with the reality that she visits her mom in prison every weekend.
Baskin quite masterfully captures the many emotions that Ruby experiences, without ever being maudlin or depressing. There is one plot twist that felt unbelievable to me, but on the whole I was completely captured by Ruby and her emotional evolution.
For students who have an incarcerated parent (and all of us who work in education know too many who do), this book will act as a lifeline, as true bibliotherapy. For other middle grade readers, Ruby will be a character who both inspires and instructs. This is an important book for libraries to have and to share.