This is a quasi-memoir by the author about a 14-year-old boy who grew up in a very bad section of East Cleveland, but manages to win a scholarship to start 9th grade at an elite boarding school in Maine.
Anthony’s life before Belton Academy is contrasted with his life after he matriculates. In East Cleveland (EC), he had to contend with drugs, drinking, gangs, guns, and a culture that defined manhood in deleterious ways including “punching on girls.”
In Maine, he is one of only a few blacks, and he struggles to define himself among them. Acceptance carries a price:
“If I wanted to stay and get along with the people at Belton, then I had to become somebody else. Being black was okay, even cool, but only when it was convenient for others. If I sat with other black kids or wanted to talk about prejudice, then I was the one being racist.”
Meanwhile, back at home, he now seems too white; too non-ghetto for his old friends.
Anthony is not sure to which world he belongs, or even to which he wants to belong.
Evaluation: This well-written book provides an excellent glimpse at the pressures growing up in a neighborhood mired in poverty and crime, and the concurrent pressures faced by trying to leave that legacy behind. I have heard that The Beast by Walter Dean Myers is similar, but much more depressing; this one has a hopeful ending, especially since we know the author went on to be successful. I highly recommend this book for an understanding of what life is like in the chaos of blighted neighborhoods, and for a look at the hurdles to getting out of them.
Note: This book has heavy use of the “n” word. If you missed all the controversy over CNN’s Don Lemon’s broadcast criticizing the use of this word by blacks, it is a dialogue well worth examining. This is a link to a video in which Don Lemon defends his broadcast as well as reactions to his statements.
Published by HarperTeen, and imprint of HarperCollins, 2012