There are many typical features of a WDM book in this story – urban setting, conflicted male protagonist, basketball references, etc. – but this is Walter Dean Myers at his most poetic.
A high-schooler from Harlem gets a scholarship to a New England boarding school, leaving behind his family and friends as well as a very fragile girlfriend. Returning home for winter break, he finds himself unsure of his place in the world. It seems the people and places have all changed in his absence.
Myers deftly and lyrically provides an intimate view of people and neighborhoods. We feel the tenderness, anxiety, and passion of young people navigating new adult terrain. This is a beautifully written and moving story told in the classic WDM tradition.
The November issue of The Council Chronicle, published by NCTE, carries a feature on WDM titled “A Labor of Love”. Myers states that his stories are encouraging to kids and teens from troubled backgrounds “who look for characters like themselves in books.” He said, “There will be some kids who will find a voice in what I’m saying to them. There will be some whose lives will be validated because I’ve included them.” As the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Myers works to promote reading and literacy especially among “poor kids and kids in urban areas.”
My goal is to read all 105 of Walter Dean Myers’s published books. I’ve just finished five of them, or approximately 4%. Would anyone like to venture a guess as to when (or if) I’ll meet my goal?
This is the book I had with me this summer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Summer Institute when Walter Dean Myers spoke. He signed my copy “To Plainfield students, Best Wishes, Walter Dean Myers”. I brought this particular book with me because it was in relatively good shape. Most of my WDM books are somewhat the worse for wear, having been read by dozens of students. But this one I had just ordered in the spring, with a particular student in mind, who was drawn to stories about war. I hadn’t read it myself yet. What an eye-opener!
The story follows 17-year-old Richie who joins the army right out of high school and quickly finds himself in Vietnam. It is a graphic look at the horror of war and an unflinching examination of the lack of preparation these young soldiers had for leaving “the World” and entering brutal chaos.
As always, WDM writes with the strong voice of the main character, a young man searching for his place in an unkind world, whose life is filled alternately with self-doubt and confidence, fear and hope, loneliness and friendship. It’s a story about staying alive and thinking about reasons for wanting to.
I would recommend this for high school students or mature middle-schoolers due to some violent scenes and strong language.
WDM directly addresses the young writer in this helpful and encouraging book. While sketching out some routines and procedures sure to benefit any aspiring novelist, Myers also describes his own experiences growing up – the good and the not-so-good – and claims that reading saved in his life. Each of the chapters can stand alone, making them ideal for classroom read alouds, but also creating a bit of repetition throughout the book.
This is a classic Myers: basketball as a metaphor for life. This story finds high school basketball star Drew surveying his life’s possibilities as he struggles to maintain his place on his team. Myers addresses racism, the plight of the urban teenager, and well-meaning adults in this tale. Young basketball players will relate to the athletic scenes as well as the quandry of the protagonist.