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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Black Boy, White School Frank, Affecting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Anthony "Ant" Jones has never really felt safe in his inner-city East Cleveland neighborhood. Teeming with gangsters, drugs and crime, it's the kind of place where violence can break out at any time over any little thing. The 14-year-old is used to it, but when his best friend is killed in a drive-by, Ant knows he can't stay in the ghetto for one more minute. Fortunately, he's got a way out—he's been offered a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school in Maine. Unfortunately, Belton Academy's student body is made up mostly of kids who are wealthy and white, two things Ant most certainly is not. It's not the ideal situation for a black city boy, but Ant's determined to make the best of it.

When he arrives at Belton, Ant's happy to discover he's not the only minority in residence. There are a few others, most of whom are athletes, all of whom are there thanks to financial aid. Ant doesn't like the message Belton's meager attempt at diversification sends—not all black people are poor and good at basketball (his game, for instance, needs some serious help). Determined to change that image, Ant does his best to fit in. Only he doesn't. Not really. His temper flares every time someone looks askance at him, he bristles each time someone assumes something about him because of his skin color, and he gets especially riled up when his black friends accuse him of becoming too white. The more time Ant spends in his whitewashed new world, the more he begins to wonder who he really is. Is he some prep-school white boy wannabe or a tough-as-nails E.C. homeboy? Both? Neither? As Ant struggles to find his place in the world, he has to ask himself some tough questions—and face the hard truths revealed by his answers.

Black Boy, White School, a debut novel by Brian F. Walker, takes a hard look at issues like race, inner-city violence, poverty and white privilege . The author, whose life path curved in similar ways as that of his protagonist's, clearly knows his stuff—not just the gritty details of ghetto life, but also the difficulties minorities face when navigating their way through an often biased, all-white world. While Walker focuses on racism toward black students, he remains sensitive to the fact that prejudice goes both ways, making his story ring authentic and true. White readers may still be put off by Walker's frank discussions of uncomfortable subjects, but it's difficult to deny the need for YA books that address these issues in honest, affecting ways, especially through the eyes of black protagonists. That being said, I would have liked Black Boy, White School to have a little more plot, a lot better character development, and a less predictable ending. Walker's storytelling seemed to sag under the weight of the messages he was trying so hard to get across. Perhaps that kind of subtlety simply comes with experience, which bodes well for Walker, who will no doubt hone his skills with every new book he writes.

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, violence, sexual innuendo and scenes depicting underrage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Black Boy, White School from the generous folks at HarperTeen. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. It's good to see a lot of blogs about books. It's my daily routine after work to lurk on different blogs/review site to check if the books I designed/formatted is on the hot seat :-). Based on your review, I assess, it's a book about racism which is not rare. However racism is an intricate topic that needs a lot of "tact" should I say else one might be accused of being a racist.


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