Post number five is for Christopher Paul Curtis' Bucking the Sarge, another required reading assignment for my YA Lit course. This week's books focused on African-American main characters, which is a genre I haven't really read a lot of. This is unfortunate, because it is exactly the population that I currently work with, so while these books are geared toward middle/high schoolers, I liked to at least get to experience some of the genre.
Slight spoiler-ish things follow.
This book's main character is Luther, a ninth grader from Flint, Michigan. Luther's mother owns "over half of the ghetto", part of which includes some group homes for older adults who need 24/7 care. Luther works – and lives alone – in one of these homes. You get the idea pretty quickly that Luther's mother neglects him pretty badly, not in material ways but in definite emotional ways. Luther dreams about getting out of Flint and going to college, and his mother has been putting his earnings in an "education fund", which at the start of the book has a little over $90,000 in it. However, Luther also has to be in charge of cleaning up houses after tenants have been evicted, and is at the mercy of his mother's right-hand man, Darnell Dixon, and Darnell's stooge Little Chicago.
Luther's best friend is Sparky, who he's known since Kindergarten. Luther also has a dream to three-peat in the school Science Fair, so interspersed in Luther's day-to-day activities (which were written in a way that it didn't seem boring in the slightest, so huge props for that) are his musings about the science fair. Luther is also a fan of philosophy, so there are lots of little philosopical sayings throughout as well.
The book really comes to a head when it's revealed that Luther's science fair project is about the impact lead paint can have on children. See, Luther's mother has a whole basement of lead paint in one of her houses that she uses to repaint the rental properties she owns, so she obviously sees this as a huge betrayal on Luther's part. And while Luther says he didn't even realize what he was doing, I can't help but think that, deep down inside himself, perhaps he did.
What I did like is that this book ends on a very hopeful note, with Luther taking charge of his life and doing right by "his Crew" (the men in his home) and Sparky, and setting out with a goal in mind that he's going to achieve. Plus, the way he goes about getting his own back is seriously fantastic. It's definite proof that you can rise above your upbringing if you're willing to work hard and do well in school.
This book definitely gets two thumbs up from me!
Currently reading: A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson