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Jacob, a bright 10-year-old African American boy with exceptional writing ability, seems to have a promising academic future ahead of him. But living on the south-side of Chicago, life at home is nothing but. He is living in a drug-infested community with a residence overrun with roaches that should be condemned. With an addict for a mother, who's in a self-induced comatose state most of the time, he's not in a situation that he can easily test out of.
Now of age where the gangs start to take notice, Jacob and his best friend Kenny have a brief run-in with Ja'heve. He is a brazen individual and second in command to a vicious gang known as "The Circle." During the encounter, Ja'heve feels disrespected by Jacob's refusal to join; he becomes furious and jealous of him and his intellect. He knows Jacob has the smarts to make it out of their hell hole of a neighborhood and vows not to let that happen.
One morning while taking the train, Kenny finds a folded-up form and hands it over to Jacob to read, being somewhat illiterate. It turns out to be an entry form for a writing contest with a handsome cash prize and book deal. Suddenly a light of hope pierces through Jacob like never before. No longer feeling abject, and with encouragement from Kenny, he believes that he can win the contest and move he and his mother out of the ghetto and start a new life.
Being continuously pursued and harassed by Ja'heve, Jacob's daily survival becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. He fears it's just a matter of time before his picture ends up on the nightly news like so many other slain black kids before him. Jacob knows his time is short, but a chance is all he needs, and his will to survive is all he has.