cover image Bad Boy: A Memoir

Bad Boy: A Memoir

Walter Dean Myers. Amistad Press, $16.89 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-06-029524-0

Myers paints a fascinating picture of his childhood growing up in Harlem in the 1940s, with an adult's benefit of hindsight. His previous 145th Street: Short Stories conveys a more vivid sense of day-to-day life on Harlem's streets, and readers learn little here of the effects of global events (such as WWII). What they will come away with is a sense of how a gifted young man, both intellectually and athletically, feels trapped in his own mind as he tries to find a place for himself in the world. Some insightful teachers make a huge difference in his life: a fifth-grade teacher who avails Walter of her classroom library; his sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Lasher, who recognizes the boy's leadership qualities; and a high school English teacher who spots him outside the guidance counselor's office and says, ""Whatever happens, don't stop writing."" Perhaps the most poignant and carefully crafted chapter involves the 16-year-old's thought process in response to his guidance counselor's question, ""Do you like being black?"" Throughout the volume, Myers candidly examines the complexities of being black in America, from his first exposure to slavery in a seventh grade American history class, to the painful realization in adolescence that his blond, blue-eyed best friend is invited to parties where Walter is not welcome. Other chapters sometimes feel haphazard (a foreshadowing of Walter's discovery that his father is illiterate, for example, undercuts a powerful later scene that explores this more fully). What emerges is a clear sense of how one young man's gifts separate him from his peers, causing him to stir up trouble in order to belong. Fortunately, this bad boy turned out to be a fine writer. Ages 12-up. (May)