This piece uses narrative to turn what could have been a distanced roster of wrongs into a more compelling, close story about individuals’ suffering. Vivid narrative makes good investigative work all the more compelling, the wrongs more outrageous, because the reader gets close to the people affected. Boo’s writing moves easily from narrative to background and research, and back to narrative. The story has voice: It manages to be authoritative, compassionate, outraged — yet detached.
Boo’s voice achieves these qualities in large part because she adheres admirably to the old admonition to "show" not "tell." Notice the lead, which sets the tone. She uses concrete detail to make her case, while portraying character. In the 19th paragraph, which describes a model program for the mentally ill, she relies on verbs rather than adjectives to describe the program: "…the walls blaze with the oil-paint issue of Saturday art classes at the Corcoran. A staff member flips flashcards to teach a resident her address. Another resident peels carrots and accepts congratulations on the second anniversary of his Arlington movie theater job." Such writing asks a reader to do more, to draw conclusions; it is also more persuasive and powerful.
Boo’s series had impact: It led to policy reforms.
Read “Forest Haven Is Gone, But the Agony Remains,” by Katherine Boo