Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Black Boy, White School

Black Boy, White School is a powerful book that struck many nerves, made me uncomfortable at times, pushed the limits in many ways, and made me think.  Author Brian F. Walker paints a story showing truths that sometimes hurt and sometimes help all through the eyes of young black teen, Anthony.  Anthony is precariously navigating the street life of East Cleveland, the violence and poverty stricken neighborhood in Northern Ohio.  This is only part of the life that he has to balance.  Anthony also is the teen who turns to a book for solace, the son who replies with a yes ma’am to his mother, and the scholarship student who will soon be attending a nearly all white prep school in New England.

This book is unapologetic in its realness.  I say that because I have had Anthony as a student in my class.  As I read, my heart actually was beating fast because of how closely Anthony’s East Cleveland life mirrored those of students I have taught.  But the book’s author, Walker, doesn’t just expose the gritty street life in East Cleveland, he also exposes racism and hatred of immigrants.  He weaves a story that looks at attitudes of young black students towards each other and their white peers.  He puts age old traditions and what are deemed as socially acceptable practices under the microscope, so we can see them for what they are worth.  Walker does all of this through the eyes of a 14 year old boy, so that we are forced into looking into a mirror, examining our own beliefs.  

All this being said, let me be honest about the writing in this book.  YA books sometimes can shock a teacher with the sex, swearing, open drug use, and violence.  This book does all 4 of those things … in the first 4 pages of the book.  If you are squeamish about gangster living or scared to know what’s really going on in the mind of your urban 8th grade students, this book might not be easy to read.  As I was reading I also began to consider how I would approach a student about reading this book.  While the book clearly doesn’t glorify sex, swearing, drug use, or violence it does give a hefty dose of these things.  This is the type of book that will be secretly passed between friends, and I admit, I wouldn't mind older (high school) students having secret little discussion groups behind my back.  After all, the book was very well written, thought provoking, and generally would appeal to my urban students.

Recommended to students grades 10-12 and older interested YA readers.

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