If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser

February 26, 2009 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

strasserViolent death in the projects is a fact of life – as real as poverty, teen pregnancy,  school drop outs, crime, hunger, gangs and hopelessness.   DeShawn knows the circumstances of his life – where he lives, where he goes to school, his family – stack the odds against him finishing school let alone living to see his 21st birthday .  As smart as he is and as determined as he can be, DeShawn’s choices eventually come down to what gives him the best chance of survival in his environment.

Strasser presents realistic characters struggling with bleak circumstances in which gangs and violence trump aspiration and independence.  A book that begins with a dead infant thrown from the 15th floor as an act of gang revenge is going to be an unsettling read, and IF I GROW UP delivers relentlessly.  DeShawn’s story is tragically familiar and despairingly sad.

Strasser was inspired to write IF I GROW UP after visiting a school in an impoverished urban neighborhood.  The students were disruptive and belligerent during his presentation.   Later he wrote:
And, perhaps they had a point. How much relevance do the messages “Keep trying and never give up,” and “be the best reader and writer you can be,” have in a world where more than half your classmates won’t even finish high school? Where a quarter of your friends will be dead by the age of 30, and another quarter will be in prison? Were the majority of kids not interested because they already knew that what I was saying would be utterly and completely irrelevant to their lives?

Like the HBO series, THE WIRE, this book is neither a cautionary tale nor a story that offers solutions.  It is a reflection of a reality that is impossible for youth to navigate with hope alone.
John S.    WLS

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