As a school teacher, Walter Dean Myers is a staple in English teaching. Students from middle school on up have probably read one or more of Myers's novels, whether for class, or as recommended by a teacher. Myers has written such novels as Monster and Slam, along with many other very popular novels. Some of the themes that Myers writes about are issues in the juvenile, criminal justice system, urban communities, troubled teens, and ethnically diverse populations (generally African-American). Having already read Monster, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read an review Myers' newest novel, Lockdown.
Synopsis: Looking inside the life of Reese, a young man locked up in juvenile corrections facility, we find the very act of living fairly bleak. Told from his perspective, we see how the administrators, family members, and other juveniles treat him, often looking for the worst characteristics in Reese. Because Reese stands up for other teens who are picked on, he often finds himself locked up or losing privileges, and reflecting (as only a teen narrator can do) about his outlook on his future and what role he plays in society. For Reese, everything is a game, and one that he realizes is played according to the adults' rules, regardless of his feelings, desires, or dreams.
Review: Reese is a unique young man, that you grow to see as a troubled kid, and not as a violent criminal. His desire to change really becomes tied to his ability to change what he goes home to. If he is frustrated by his family's poverty and his failure at school, then his behavior is one that will match it; he will eventually turn to crime again to support his family and find his own value. As you read, the question definitely comes through from Myers of how we can help these kids change. What can we do, as a society, to eliminate the need these young, impoverished inner-city kids have for finding their sense of self through crime? Does our current system work, and what can we offer these young people once they get out of the juvenile corrections system?
I did think that Myers reached inside the system, and into this one young man's life in a very smart sort of way. We are privy to Reese's life, so that we see his pain over his family's circumstances (his brother also into criminal activity, and a younger sister that he fears for in the future), and also the stand up person that Reese would like to be as he stands up for other inmates who are too weak to protect themselves. You do really care for Reese, and want to see his success.
One thing that I really couldn't shake in the book though, was the behavior of the adults who worked in the facility. Many of the violent scenes within the facility occurred after prodding and neglect by those who were there to protect the inmates. In fact, several times these "adults" egged the students on with horrible, personal comments that were threatening, and obviously created plenty of increased stress on Reese and the other young men. To these situations, I disconnected a little. Having worked with young men who had recently been released from our state's juvenile corrections facility, I can say that I never encountered a single adult who deliberately maligned or neglected one of these students. Trust me, we often felt as though we wanted to give up on these young people, especially as those initial relationships of trust with them were being forged, but once those bonds were in place, the miracles and friendships that come from it are amazing! For the most part, teachers, administrators, and law enforcement officers that worked with these youths, agonized over individual plans for them. We worked together, brainstormed together, and yes, even vented together, so that we could be strong and work as one unit for these kids. I remember the headaches I had from wrangling students, keeping them engaged in their work, and even from breaking up fights and verbal threats that flew around the room. It wasn't an easy job by any means, and I'm sure there were glitches here or there, but never like those displayed in the book.
I suppose to some degree, I've become exhausted by the jokers in the world who act unprofessionally and ruin it for the rest of us who are working our fannies off to do it right! Most of the teachers and administrators I work with beat themselves up on a regular basis for all they're NOT able to accomplish, even when that means giving up more and more of their out of work time to lesson plan, leave encouraging remarks on assignments, or to mentor a struggling student. The teachers and other professionals that I work with do just that, to work really hard to be upstanding, in the hopes of lifting ONE child. Yes, there seems to be those jokers out there who continue to appear on the news, who have done really bad things to children in their care. They frustrate me, and they make me sick. Essentially, they sully the name of every hard working teacher and administrator I know that works 100% to be above board and generous with their time and talents. Do we get frustrated with kids and say things (often sarcastically) that shouldn't be said? Yes, we're human, and angst-filled teens can be difficult (to put it lightly), but for the most part, those I have worked with have never turned their backs on the teens and children in their care. So, for the character Reese, in this story, I'm sorry that you were surrounded by frustrated, unprofessional staff. My hope is that I'm not living and working in ideals, and that there really aren't places where the majority of the adults turn their backs on the youth they are working with. Really, I hope this is creative license, and not reality.
Now, I realize that I focused on a rather minute part of Reese's story, but I will say that it really picked away at me. For a character as eager for happiness as Reese was (and many of the other teens locked up), I wanted to see the adults supporting these changes. Overall, I think it is yet another really great book for teens, and that Walter Dean Myers leads the pack in creating novels that disillusioned teens and overachievers alike will embrace. Please note that my professional rant is an aside to a really great story that I would hand to a wide variety of my reluctant readers. I have to say that if you haven't yet read Walter Dean Myers, I would become familiar with him as soon as possible. Many of his books have entered the doors of my classroom, in the hands of my students. His work is prolific, and shows great care for today's youth and children.
Thank you to Jennifer, at Goodman Media International for providing me with this copy of Lockdown to read and review. To find out more about Walter Dean Myers, see his author website. The list of his amazing awards and accolades are listed there, along with an extensive list of those things he has published. Check him out today!
*FTC Disclosure: A review proof of the book was provided by the publishers for review.
This book counts as my 5th in the 2010 Young Adult Literature Challenge.