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Thursday, March 10, 2011
It's difficult enough being a young black male in America. It's even harder if you make one bad mistake and end up in juvenile detention.
Lockdown, a YA novel by Walter Dean Myers, was a finalist in the 2010 National Book Awards. As discussed in the following review by Jan Von Harz, Myers is a master of voice and dialog. His main character, Reese, a 13 year-old boy is a sympathetic and riveting character. He is a good kid struggling to survive in a place called Progress, a correctional facility for kids.
I wondered as I read: How does a young boy distinguish oneself as a worthy and good person in an institution like a jail? How can Reese be seen as anything but a criminal while living in a jail where he has to fight defend himself, and a friend, from bullies?
Jails are dehumanizing as are other institutions. In Lockdown, Reese keeps getting involved in fights. I was reminded of patients in hospitals, adolescents on locked psychiatric units. When such patients express their anger disruptively, the behavior might not necessarily be a sign of mental illness. It may be simply a "normal" response a stressful environment and not always understood in that way.
Likewise, when Myer's character Reese would get into fights, is it a sign that he's a criminal, or is he acting as anyone would, given the bullying that he had to contend with day in and day out? The staff sees his fighting as a sign that he was a criminal. The reader can see him between a rock an a hard place, choosing to defend a friend whose life is in danger.
If it is difficult to stay on track in jail, will Reese find it any easier when he returns home? His mother has a drug habit, his father is abusive and gangs populate the neighborhood. How can a thirteen year old stay out of trouble? Will his commitment to help his little sister, Icy, give him the courage he needs? There are no answers, just questions.
This book would appeal to a wide audience. It's difficult for some kids to make good decisions even in the best of circumstances. What, then, must the struggle be like for a boy like Reese?