Opening and closing with the funerals of 2 teens killed by drug violence, Walter Dean Myer’s Autobiography of My Dead Brother, is a stark portrayal of youth for urban teens. I am always impressed by Walter Dean Myer’s ability to tell honest, and sometimes gritty, stories about the difficulties faced by young men, often African American, whose lives are surrounded by violence. His characters are multi-dimensional and he deftly illustrates how much everyone has in common with everyone else, and how fine the line between good and bad choices really is.
Fifteen-year-old Jessie has always seen his slightly older friend Rise as a hero, and the boys made a blood-brother bond as children. We watch Rise pull away from Jesse and their group of friends and start dealing drugs and “fronting cool.” Jessie struggles to find his old friend beneath the new persona, while also trying to stay true to himself in the face of the encroaching violence of neighborhood. His search leads him to art, which is his great talent, and he begins to create a biography of Rise in pictures (illustrated in the book by Christopher Myers).
The most impressive thing about this book is how subtle the increments are in which lives can be so dramatically changed. At the beginning all these characters are just kids, even if they do live in a very dangerous neighborhood. These kids aren’t abandoned crack addicts or gang-bangers; they are just teenage boys trying to figure out what they will accomplish with their lives and how they will do it. Myers includes the parents, grandparents and other adult figures figure in the book as well; he shows how they are desperately trying to help their children cope with a world that challenges their humanity as well. That ordinariness makes the way things fall to pieces all that much more distressing.
Autobiography of My Dead Brother is an amazing book about friendship and loyalty and growing up.
- Posted by Cori