Posts tagged ‘African-American’

The Rock and The River


1968 was a year of turmoil. Protests against the Viet Nam war and for the enforcement of Civil Rights laws were punctuated by assassinations, violence and riots. Much of the conflict seemed to be generational – children in rebellion against their parents values and beliefs. In this setting, in Chicago, the two sons of civil rights activist and pacifist Roland Childs attempt to establish their own identities separate from their father. Older brother Stick secretly joins the Black Panther Party, whose community activism is a complex mix of service and militarism. Younger brother Sam is torn between what he discovers about his older brother’s activities and his father’s faith in non-violence. As his experiences with racism in Chicago grow more violent and the murder of Martin Luther King sparks riots, Sam wonders if his father’s path will ever result in any change at all. Yet he knows instinctively that his brother’s gun will carry a cost all its own.

This is an interesting and compelling look at the complex relationship between the hope and despair of the inner-cities in America in 1968, especially as represented by The Black Panther Party, from which emerged a new and strength and pride of heritage for African-Americans.   John S.  (WLS)


March 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm Leave a comment

If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser

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

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

Kendra by Coe Booth

Kendra is fourteen years old, the same age her mother was when she had Kendra. Now, for the first time, it seems that her mom is going to be a presence in her life. Kendra has been raised by her granmother while her mom continued her education and has remarkably just earned a doctoral degree. Now with her mom looking for a teaching position in the city, Kendra is certain that she will soon be able to move out of her grandmother’s house and in with her mom.

But that doesn’t seem to be in her mother’s plan, especially when her mom rents a tiny studio apartment and seems to have more time for her boyfriend than for Kendra. But Kendra can barely stand the oppressive vigilance of her grandmother, who is determined that no boy will derail Kendra’s life – no way will she be get pregnant!. Of course, Kendra falls hard for an older boy at school and is unable to resist his sexual advances. Will family history repeat itself, or can Kendra learn from her mom’s choices?

As she did in her first book, Tyrell, Coe Booth hones in on an common but undertold story and crafts it with sharp dialog and believable characters. Kendra’s struggles to find her way though complex family entanglements and adolescent desires are compelling and believable and should attract many readers. (JS)

September 29, 2008 at 7:48 pm Leave a comment

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