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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

30 August 2008 IF I GROW UP by Todd Strasser, Simon and Schuster, February 2009, 224 p., ISBN: 1-4169-2523-6


"By the age of twelve, seeing dead folks was nothing new. The gangbanger who lay glassy-eyed in a pool of blood in the lobby. The lady who was stabbed and crawled down four flights of stairs, leaving a long, brownish red trail before she bled out. The crusty old wino who froze to death on a bench."


I've now lived a longer life than had the late Jerry Garcia. And at 53 and a half, I have still never once seen someone (other than a law enforcement official) in public with a loaded handgun. Nor, in my entire life -- in real life -- have I ever seen crack cocaine. Nor have I ever seen -- in real life -- the dead victim of a violent crime.


There, but for the grace of God, go I.


I grew up in a suburbia where I was permitted, from the age of five, to walk unaccompanied from a nice single-family home to a series of safe, clean, well-financed schools, and to be out on the streets at all hours of the day and night. Back in the late Sixties, as a middle school student, I did sometimes suffer the indignities of being called names and of having (in the days before students used backpacks) my books and loose leaf binder shoved out from beneath my arm while walking from class to class. Such experiences were traumatic for me as a sensitive, oldest sibling. But I was never in any mortal danger as a child or adolescent.


Far too many young people in our country are inner-city dwellers who have it quite differently: living beneath the poverty level in dangerous homes in dangerous communities, attending dangerous schools, and are far too used to being in daily contact with gangs, guns, drugs, fears, and premature deaths. A disproportionate percentage of these young people are members of minority groups.


"It seemed like everything in Washington Carver was held together with tape. The cracks in the grimy windows, the pages in the tattered old textbooks, the pull-down maps in the front of the room -- all held in place with yellowed, peeling tape."


I am a life-long fan of learning history. It helps me understand why and how America is how it is. This doesn't mean that studying history doesn't often lead me to feelings of anger and despair. What might it take today to repair things for those who have gotten stuck -- for generations -- with the short end of the American Dream?


Guaranteed that in the coming years, some fortunate, twenty-first century middle school kids (undoubtedly in a well-financed, suburban school district somewhere) are going to end up with a teacher who turns them onto IF I GROW UP and leads them through an extended study of American history focused on why such dangerous and dysfunctional neighborhoods/ communities/ housing projects have come to exist in the so-called greatest and wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and why such neighborhoods have not only perpetuated but have continued to grow as those on the outside say, "No new taxes, you're on your own."


"Wham! Jules swung his arm out hard, catching Terrell square in the face. My friend fell back, and the pistol clattered to the ground about five feet away. Jules rose to his hands and knees. He looked at the gun; then he looked at me. "I knew what he was thinking.

"He lunged for the gun. For a kid who'd just been shot in the foot, he moved pretty fast.

"But I was faster, scooping up the gun and aiming it down at him. This was the first time I'd ever held a real gun, and even though it was small, it weighed more than I'd expected. My heart was hammering and my hand trembled, but I willed it to stop.

"Still on his hands and knees, Jules looked up at me uncertainly. Then, out of nowhere, a different sensation took hold. With that gun in my hand, I began to feel powerful in a way I'd never felt before."


Todd Strasser's IF I GROW UP offers a horrific view of an inner city society that is dominated by gang activity. The absence of inner city dialect and objectionable language makes this a high-interest book that can, indeed, be shared in the middle school classroom.


The story is told by DeShawn, a talented student, insightful young man, and decent human being, from the time he is twelve through his being seventeen. DeShawn's mother had been the innocent victim of gang violence; he now lives in a crowded one bedroom apartment with his grandmother, his sister Nia, and Nia's ever-growing brood of fatherless offspring. No matter what he does or does not do, DeShawn is dragged deeper and deeper into the same morass as those around him.


As with his story about homeless kids, CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE, Todd Strasser gives us an in-your-face look at how the other half lives. IF I GROW UP is a hell of a story for all of us who have no clue as to what kind of daily lives these young people in the projects experience, and how their dreams are beaten down.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/




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