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SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Boy is a memoir written by prize-winning author Walter Dean Myers about
growing up in Harlem during the 1940's.
Raised by a family that informally adopted him after his mother died,
Myers treats us to stunning images of street life at the time, including this
one: It became common to hear
loudspeakers in the music stores fill the area with the sounds of jazz and to
see the strollers adjust their rhythms to the beat set down by Count Basie or
even some gospel group.
The central figure in Myers youth
was a white woman he called Mama. She
was married to his black adoptive father, Herbert Dean. It is Myers treatment of Mama and her
treatment of him that compels the reader to stay with this story, which ends
when Myers leaves home to join the Army.
There is a brief epilogue, but it does not give closure to questions
about his relationship with Mama. The
reader comes away from the story wondering how Myers and his Mama could have
had so many good times together, yet treated each other so badly.
For example, one day Myers injured
his legs after falling off the back of a taxi on which he was hitching a
ride. Bruised and bloodied, he made his
way home and stayed in his room until supper.
When he father finally asked him what was wrong with his legs, his answer
was, Mama beat me with a stick. He
writes that he told God he was sorry for the lie, but he didnt tell Mama the
same thing. He just let her take
Herbert Deans abuse. At another point
in the story, Myers decides to save money for a typewriter so he can work on
becoming a writer. He gives Mama five
dollars a week to hold for him until he saves enough to buy one. But Mama uses his money to gamble on numbers
and loses it all. By that time, Myers
writes, Mama was drinking heavily. I
was filled with bitterness of not having the typewriter I worked so hard for.
At school, Myers was the target of
ridicule because of a speech problem.
He fought his tormenters by hitting, slapping, and throwing books. Myers became one of those fat file kids
who saw schoolrooms as war zones. As he
grew older, Myers only went to school occasionally, preferring to be out in the
city looking for places where he could read all day undisturbed. He sat in trees, on piers, and in
libraries. He would forge his Mamas name
on excuse notes until the school got wise to him, and then there would be the
inevitable confrontation with the school people followed by another one on the
home front. He finally dropped out.
Myers began to write poetry at an early age, and
received positive recognition for his work.
After he left home, he was able to shed his bad boy persona, and
eventually find his way into the writing world where he made a name for himself
as an author of childrens books.
Boy is a book about a successful person, but it fails to inspire. Myers peppers the story with many
confessions of wrongdoing, but omits remorse.
His message seems to be this is what I did and you can take it or
leave it. Held at arms length, the
reader is unable to empathize with Myers, or even be on his side. He describes himself at times as an
aggressor and at other times as a victim, leading one to believe that he was
unable to decide which of the two was a better fit.
Early in the book, Myers writes:
The greatest time I ever spent in my life was when she was home. One cannot help but wonder how Mama moved
from that center stage position in his early life to her later
dissolution. It is equally unclear how
he moved from such a touching expression of his love for her to the feelings of
bitterness and detachment that ultimately propelled him out the door.
Thats the untold story in Bad Boy.
2002 Liz Bass
Liz Bass was
a teacher and principal for twenty-three years at a school for bad boys (and
girls) in Northern California. She is