Thursday, September 18, 2008

Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers

Main Character: 15-year-old Jesse
Location: New York City
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction

Jesse is a young African-American teen growing up in the 'hood. Rise is an older boy who has been Jesse's friend since forever; they even did the blood brothers thing when they were little. Well, Jesse was too scared to actually cut his finger but when he fell and scraped his knee, Rise cut his finger and they mingled blood then. They are as close, if not closer, than actual brothers. But lately, Jesse has been noticing a change in Rise.

Jesse and his friends have a social club, the Counts, which has a 40-year heritage. But when Mason joined the Counts, he seemed bent on taking it over and turning it into a gang. When Mason went to jail for robbing a bodega, Rise began following in his path, trying to become the group's leader and trying to take it in a direction that worried Jesse. The bodega that Mason robbed is firebombed. Did Rise have anything to do with it? Did Rise drop a dime on a Diablo in retaliation for a drive-by? Just what is going on with Rise?

Jesse is a good kid, struggling to grow up in an atmosphere that keeps him worried and nervous all the time. He takes refuge in his art, just as his friend C.J. takes refuge in his music. Rise had been a good kid, too. Only a few years before, he had talked about how drugs and crime were doing no good for their neighborhood, so why was he now talking about taking that path?

Walter Dean Myers has written another powerful novel (but, really, were you expecting him to do otherwise? This is Walter Dean Myers we're talking about.) Christopher Myers contributes the portraits and comics that Jesse draws in the novel. These pen and ink drawings not only illustrate parts of the story, but expand on them, such as the panels showing a drive-by shooting. Like Jesse, I felt nervous and anxious through much of this book. From the title, you know that things will not end well for Rise, but the stress was affecting everyone. Jesse's dad, in particular, is feeling the strain and lashes out in a way that is shocking but also, sadly, understandable. I have hopes for Jesse and his life after the end of this book. I would like to think that he will grow to be a good man himself.

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