Sometimes we readers come across books that are a bit gritty, somewhat disturbing, and definitely unsettling, but wonderful at the same time. I had this experience with my latest read, If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser, of Boot Camp fame. Such a realistic journey within a fiction novel, that really, is begging to be read by teens and adults. You probably won't like anything that you read, you'll hate it even, probably because most of it is true and completely real and going on in our country...and we like to forget about the bad stuff. Well this is the bad stuff front and center, and I think it's brilliantly done.
"WHEN YOU GREW UP IN THE PROJECTS, THERE WERE NO CHOICES. NO GOOD ONES, AT LEAST.
In the Frederick Douglass Project where DeShawn lives, daily life is ruled by drugs and gang violence. Many teenagers drop out of school and join gangs, and every kid knows someone who died. Gunshots ring out on a regular basis.
DeShawn is smart enough to know he should stay in school and keep away from the gangs. But while his friends have drug money to buy fancy sneakers and big-screen TVs, DeShawn's family can barely afford food for the month. How can he stick to his principles when his family is hungry?
In this gritty novel about growing up in the inner city, award-winning author Todd Strasser opens a window into the life of a teenager struggling with right and wrong under the ever-present shadow of gangs."
DeShawn is just a regular kid, in a world that he sees as completely normal. He knows that the entire world doesn't live in the projects, that most families don't have multiple gang members and drug deals in their midst, and that a lot of people have plenty to eat, rather than being so hungry they'll do anything for food. All of that is DeShawn's reality and though it's nice to dream about getting out of the projects, he knows it won't happen.
This was a heartwrenching book to read, but such an eye-opener. And if it opened my eyes, it might just open the eyes of our teens that take so very much for granted much of the time. The "projects" written about in this book are a frightening reality for many teens and to view that through DeShawn's eyes was a brilliant gift.
Read this. Definitely read it BEFORE your kiddos to make sure you're alright with the content. Again, it's scary. Guns, violence, drugs, etc., but I feel it has a very important message to give. I can see this being required reading for an English class.
The only downside of the book, was the slightly stereotypical portions of the plot (like the pair of lovebirds from rival gang territories) and the amount of devastation in one small period of time has the ability to seem contrived. However, these things DO happen. And they may not happen to one boy over the course of a couple years, but they do happen on a daily basis to people all over the country. So for that reason, I looked past the bit of excess and continued to love the story.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for a review copy :)
To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.
If I Grow Up
Simon & Schuster