BEYOND THE BARS (YA Contemporary)


Beyond the Bars


Mona AlvaradoFrazier


YA Contemporary

Word Count:

76,000 words


When 17-year-old Juana follows her boyfriend from Mexico to the United States, she never imagines she’ll end up in prison for manslaughter. Now her boyfriend’s mother wants custody of Juana’s baby and her only chance to prevent this is to clear herself of charges.

Juana doesn’t trust her correctional counselor with the truth of her past without the risk of incriminating herself on another charge. When a gang leader demands she joins up to survive in prison, Juana faces the dilemma of obeying the inmate code, her counselor’s expectations or following her own goals . This forces her to walk a thin line between violence, survival, and freedom. A stranger in a severe new world, Juana finds herself surrounded by young women who seem so different from her – but in this world, she finds hope and help in an unlikely place with unlikely people.

BEYOND THE BARS is a YA contemporary, complete at 76,000 words. I bring professional knowledge to this novel with my 28-year career working in the California Department of Corrections. I received a writing fellowship to A Room of Her Own (AROHO) writers residency in 2013/2015. The Association of Writers Program (AWP) selected me for their 2014 mentorship program. I am a member of SCBWI and local writing groups. Three of my short stories will be published by the University of Nevada, Reno in their anthology about gender violence. Another short story placed in the Ventura County writing contest of May 2016.

First 300 words:

My handcuff rattled against the window. A girl sat next to me, another behind me, all of us with our hands tied to the bottom of the windows like goats going to market. The van crept down the street, through the fog, and sped up the freeway ramp. The metal rings bounced against the glass.

We came to a sudden stop where I slid forward until the chain yanked me back into my seat. I slapped my free hand over my lips to stop the flood of sour saliva traveling over my tongue. The girl next to me scrunched up her nose, her lips curled against crooked teeth.

“You’d better not barf.” She leaned away. Blue-black letters rose from the bottom of her neck, WF 13. Her cropped black hair reminded me of my father until she twisted her body to face me, her chin up in the air. The deep scar above her eye rose with her eyebrow. “What’re you lookin’ at paisa?”

Her sharp tone made me catch my breath. I glanced out of the window into the morning mist and tried to stay calm. The girl banged on the mesh divider between us and the officers.

“She’s gonna barf, gimme a towel or somethin’”

With each blow against the screen, my body squeezed itself smaller.

“Knock it off Gonzales. Ivanov, take this.” The officer pushed a wad of paper towels through the opening in the partition.

Behind me, a soft voice whispered, “You okay?” The girl’s skin was the color of piloncillo, the raw sugar cones used to make Mexican chocolate. “Me llamo Mariana,” she said in Spanish.

“Me llamo Juana,” I said. Her words surprised but comforted me. I flattened myself against the window, away from the tattooed girl whose dark eyes darted between the both of us.


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