This is our book discussion book for our Teen Book Club that meets at the high school once a month. We just finished our group discussion yesterday, so I thought I’d post my own thoughts here.
This was a tough read, not only because of the subject matter – kids dealing with social problems is always a tough read – but also because it highlights how important a good support structure is for future success.
It tends to shy away from expressing how much privilege and stability play into the divergence of the two Wes’s stories, which is a shame, but otherwise does a good job of expressing how similar they are, in terms of neighborhoods, at any rate.
I think the author wants to be more similar to the other Wes than he truly is, although I can understand that he feels a certain level of similarity, and there is. But the similarities tend to only be surface sorts of things: black men growing up in poor neighborhoods beset by drugs without fathers. It is a common enough story that any number of other men could share it.
The narrative of similarity falls apart for me almost immediately: the authors’ parents were both educated beyond high school, held down well-paying jobs. The author’s father dies, leaving a legacy of someone to look up to. The other Wes could not be more different. The story opens with his mother losing her Pell grant to continue her education, and Wes’s father a deadbeat drug addict.
Their beginnings could not be more different. And so, throughout the book, the more their lives diverge, the more stark those beginnings become. It is disingenuous, to me, to say that these two men could have traded lives, except in the happenstance of birth. To compare tagging to dabbling in the drug trade – a single run-in with the police to a lifetime of crime – it feels like the author misunderstands his subject’s life in some way, or was listening with a filter so profound, he missed the fundamental differences in their lives that led them to where they were.
I think this is an important book, but for very different reasons than the author may have meant for it to be.