Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cruisers, by Walter Dean Myers (ages 11 - 14)

"If you say something to somebody's face or behind their back or on the Net or on the phone, you have to own it. And that means you have to think about it before it comes out."
(The Cruisers, pp. 117-118)

Walter Dean Myers is an amazing author who is able to pull students into stories, and push them to think about issues that are not always easy or comfortable. His bestselling books are for 7th graders and older: Monster, Lockdown and Fallen Angels. But in his latest book, The Cruisers, Mr. Myers tackles serious issues of race, free speech and integrity - but for a tween audience of 5th through 8th graders.
Cruisers Book 1The Cruisers
by Walter Dean Myers
NY: Scholastic Press, 2010
ages 11 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
Zander Scott and his friends LaShonda, Kambui, and Bobbi are eighth graders at Da Vinci Academy for the Gifted and Talented in Harlem and they're skating on thin ice. They publish an alternative school newspaper, The Cruiser. LaShonda wrote an article for The Cruiser called "Life on the High C's or, Do We Really Need A's and B's?" That was sure to get the attention of the assistant principal, Mr. Culpepper - and not the right type of attention. Now their history teacher has started a school-wide project on the Civil War dividing the 8th grade into Union and Confederate sympathizers, and Mr. Culpepper has asked Zander and his friends to play the role of mediators.

Tempers flare as the Civil War role playing quickly turns ugly. A group of white students who call themselves the Sons of the Confederacy publish an editorial in the official school newspaper calling for the Southern states to break away from the Union. Their focus, however, is on "civilizing" "our brothers of African descent", and not on states' rights. Zander, his friends, and other African Americans at Da Vinci are angry.  Zander struggles with how to avoid escalating the conflict into a full-fledged fight, while still getting his message across.

I found The Cruisers very compelling on one hand, and slightly disappointing in other ways. I was especially moved by the resolution Zander and his classmates develop. Walter Dean Myers authentically captures the voice of young adults struggling with big issues in their own way. Zander focuses on owning your words, thinking about what you say before you say it, and standing by your beliefs. Integrity, in all its best forms. On the other hand, I found it hard to fully develop a picture of each character in my mind. At 126 pages, this is a brief, fast-paced novel. There are too many characters to give them fully developed attention. I think some students will find it hard to connect to this story because it's too heavy on ideas, and not enough on character.

Another excellent book that makes me think about a character struggling with integrity is The Rock and the River, by Kekla Magoon. See my review here.

The review copy came from my local library. If you  make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support!

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, was slightly disappointed. This has been a hard sell to the students.