Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, with Erin Torneo

In the prologue of this book, the authors, Jennifer and Ron, and their families are enjoying a youth soccer tournament in Gibsonville.  “So how do y’all know each other?” a soccer mom asks.  “We go way back,” answers Ron.

Back twenty-two years, in fact… At that time, Jennifer, a student at Elon, was peacefully sleeping in her apartment near the campus when she woke up to find a man near her bed.  When he raped her, she observed him carefully, determined to be able to pick him from a lineup so that he’d get the punishment he deserved.  From the seven men presented to her by the police, she selected Ronald Cotton.  Confident of her decision, she prayed every night that he’d die a horrible death in prison.

This book takes us through those twenty-two years through alternating chapters in which Jennifer and Ron tell their stories, showing how those terrible events eventually led to such a happy family gathering.

The book’s appeal to me comes largely from the fact that I am intrigued by reading about people who overcome adversity, bringing something positive from their difficulties.  Picking Cotton tells the remarkable stories of two people from very different backgrounds – a white college student with a 4.0 and a black high school dropout with a record of petty crime.  Yet, despite their reasons for despising each other, they eventually formed a bond stronger than friendship.  Their stories show the power of forgiveness.

I also learned a lot about the criminal justice system as it was in the days prior to DNA testing, when eyewitness identifications played a greater role than they often do today, and about life in North Carolina prisons.

Part of my interest in reading books set in North Carolina is that I relate to them even more than I might have if the events had happened far away.  This book is set in the Piedmont area.

(Helen Snow, Information Services)


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