14-year-old Anthony, or Ant, is growing up in East Cleveland in a land of weed and guys who slap girls over imagined slights and guys who shoot other guys over those imagined slights. A walk to the grocery store can be a beginning or an end. But Anthony's mother has big dreams for him and she has insisted that he apply to a prep school in Maine. It's a school for white kids and Anthony figures they'll be rich white kids. Mom sees it as a way out for Anthony and has hopes that one of those white rich kids' father will give her son a job. Anthony watches his best friend have his brains blown out and makes his decision. He's going to give this white school a try. There has to be something better than where he is right now. This book is written in a rough, street dialect and starts out pretty gritty. Anthony heads off to Belton, meets his nose-blowing roommate, listens to the foreign language all around him and tries to find something to hold onto. Where does he belong? Is it East Cleveland or Belton, Maine? Or maybe neither? As he sorts himself out, he bumps up against the hazing that is accepted by the school as tradition and Anthony takes a look at the farce in both worlds and finds his own voice. Powerful opening may hit home for some kids and may cause other kids to ask some questions about their own worlds. East Cleveland feels real. This author is giving those kids a chance to see themselves and just maybe look for a way out. 246 pages Ages 14 and up
"Anthony went to the main building and registered. They gave him a lot of things to read plus his room key. John had been right: He was staying in Kaster Hall, on the freshman floor. He left the desk and moved through the crowded lobby, making sure not to bump anyone or even make eye contact. Most
of the kids were with their parents and all of them were white. Self-conscious, Anthony walked quickly toward the door. A man in a bow tie stopped him, though, before he could leave.
"Ant nodded but didn't say anything.
"'Fantastic!' The man grabbed Anthony's hand and shook it. 'Good to meet you, Tony.' he continued. 'I'm Mr. Kraft, director of admissions.'
"'Nice to meet you, sir,' Anthony said. 'Thanks for letting me in.'
"'Nonsense. We should thank you for coming.' Mr. Kraft clapped him on the shoulder and squeezed. Then he waved to a passing man in the crowd. He was big and had bushy eyebrows. 'Tony, this is Mr. Rockwell. Coach, meet Tony Jones.'
"The tall man shook Anthony's hand and nearly broke it. 'Welcome to Belton, Tony. Where you from?'
"'Cleveland?' He made a face and both men smiled. Anthony smiled, too, although he didn't know what was funny. 'Had a kid here from Cleveland once, he could jump out the gym.' The coach looked Anthony up and down. 'What about you, Tony? You play any hoops?'
"'Basketball?' Anthony though about his brother's warning and shook his head. Didn't they see how short he was? 'I ain't no good.'
"'Maybe not yet,' Mr. Kraft said with a wink. 'But give it time.'"
It always unnerves me to experience how a chunk of the 99 percent is left to live (and die) in twenty-first century America, particularly when it is as well-articulated a view of that life as are the harrowing opening scenes of young Ant Jones's trying to keep on keepin' on in East Cleveland, Ohio. That is, before his witnessing the drive-by murder of a close friend becomes the straw that persuades him to accept the admission he's been offered to attend Belton Academy (Established 1844), a prep school in rural Maine.
I don't think I've ever even visited a prep school, other than through reading stories and seeing movies. It quickly becomes clear that Anthony, as an incoming freshman and the odd (black) man out, is going to need all of the instinct and survival skills he's developed at home to make it at Belton:
"None of the talk made sense to Anthony. Just like in class, the way that he saw things seemed different from everyone else. No wonder he had never heard of hazing before. Back at home, it would get someone shot."
This young man's strong sense of justice -- and willingness to act upon it -- quickly earns him some friends and a healthy number of enemies, both among his peers and among the adults. And then when he returns home for Christmas vacation, after four months away, he realizes that he no longer fits into the place where he's grown up.
BLACK BOY WHITE SCHOOL is the coming-of-age story of a year in the life of a young man from the hood. It is a high-interest title that will appeal to lots of middle school and high school reluctant readers. It thoroughly distinguishes itself as a significant piece of young adult literature thanks to the story's probing -- through the words and deeds of adolescent and adult characters -- of attitudes, assumptions, mis-assumptions and prejudices that stubbornly persist regarding black and white in America.
In addition to Anthony, there is a wealth of memorable adolescent characters, both in East Cleveland and in Maine.
This is a quick read that won't be quickly forgotten.
Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California, USA
Visit his blog at: Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (http://richiespicks.com/)