Date reviewed: 2/19/03 Grades 5-8 IL YA author’s website
Awards: Coretta Scott King
Summary: Main character Lafayette, is tormented by his older brother (who he calls Newcharlie because the old Charlie wouldn’t treat him this way) after their mother died suddenly. His father had died years before after rescuing a dog from frigid waters. Oldest brother Ty’ree gives up college plans (MIT) and struggles to keep the family together. Lafayette blames himself for not discovering his mother earlier and calling paramedics, and Newcharlie encourages this guilt. Newcharlie turns to street life as an escape for his sorrow, landing in jail, and putting their fragile family in jeopardy of being split up by the authorities.
Personal Reaction: I loved this book! It could be compared in a way to The Outsiders because Ty’ree wants to do his best for the family but it is hard, just as it is for Ponyboy’s older brother. Newcharlie aside, I really liked the images of a caring mother and strong family values portrayed here.
Any Cautions: Some – you want to be sensitive if any child in your class has recently lost a parent, or who might have a family member in jail
Points for discussion with children: orphans, guilt
Possible classroom uses: This is a novel about a strong family. You could pair this with Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli in which Maniac is orphaned and he has no family to keep together. He runs away and finds family elsewhere.
Connections to other books? The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks is another novel which emphasizes a strong family (even though the father is absent in both stories, it’s still good – trust me). I also like Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers which shows how hard it can be to stay out of a gang when you feel there is no alternative.
Realia: pictures of adolescent boy behind bars, old family snapshot – mother and son, Central Park, NY; stuffed dog
Food items connected to story: bread