Monday, October 25, 2010

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

Lockdown. I can’t think of a title more appealing to many of the students I meet at Bridges. One copy is currently missing from our school library after I went out of my way to book talk it on the occasion of the recent announcement that it was a National Book Award finalist. (Stay tuned on November 17th when the winner is announced!) It doesn’t hurt that the cover is enticing too. Readers may have to make it to the second chapter to get hooked, but the entire novel is filled with Myers’ signature telling details, humor, and mission to transport the reader to familiar and unfamiliar territory through the eyes of a young man from Harlem.

In this iteration we meet Reese who finds himself doing time in an upstate juvenile detention facility. Unusually, Reese has been selected as the pilot participant of an experimental new work-release program, and is confronted with the very real challenges that stop him from what might seem to outsiders and policy makers to be an easy path to success.

For those who are familiar with Myers’ oeuvre, Lockdown reads like a cross betweenMonster and The Mouse Rap. Like Monster, Lockdown provides keen insight into the mentality of the denizens of the obscured world that is a secure juvenile detention center. The novel, which I can only guess has been at least several years in the making, comes at a time when more public attention is turned to New York’s state-run juvenile detention facilities than ever before. Lockdown is a timely walk in a resident’s shoes, and should appeal not only to the young people who can relate to Reese, but to the reading public who are curious and remain largely in the dark regarding what life is like for the residents of these facilities.

Adults who give this book to incarcerated young folks should expect readers to express frustration at the lack of a happy ending. Walter Dean Myers continues his remarkable service to citizens of all ages as a public intellectual.

Myers, Walter Dean. Lockdown. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

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