Book Reviews

Picking Cotton

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Picking Cotton
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NPR’s This I Believe

Years ago, I shared essays of belief with my students from NPR’s series This I Believe. One particularly powerful one is by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino. It grabbed my attention because they were from my home state of North Carolina, and their true story was both troubling and redemptive. Once just an essay that I highly recommend listening to (link below), now their story is also a novel and one that I highly recommend reading.

*For those who have experienced abuse, some excerpts may be difficult to read as details of the rape are recounted to the police and in the courtroom.

Picking Cotton

During a line up, Jennifer mistakenly chose Ronald as the man who raped her. He was innocent. Jennifer writes, “Eleven years. How do elven years pass when you are locked up for a crime you didn’t commit? I couldn’t begin to imagine. For me, they were eleven years measured in birthdays, first days of school, Christmas mornings. Ronald Cotton and I were exactly the same age, and he had had none of those things because I’d picked him. He’d lost eleven years of time with his family, eleven years of falling in love, getting married, having kids. He looked forlorn on the television, hurt and bewildered. The guilt suffocated me” (237-238).

Written by both Jennifer and Ronald, the reader gets to see what it was like for each of them throughout the years as the chapters alternate between their recollections. It’s a glimpse into what Jennifer and Ronald experienced and it’s difficult to imagine living it. They end up meeting, along with their families, and form a unique bond that extends a very long way beyond reconciliation. This is a story about unimaginable grief and the ability to forgive and to heal.

Thompson-Cannino, Jennifer, and Ronald Cotton. Picking Cotton. Edited by Erin Torneo, St. Martin’s Press, 2009.

Purchase your copy here:

Finding Freedom in Forgiveness NPR Listen:

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