book review: Black Boy, White School

title: Black Boy White School

author: Brian F. Walker

date: HarperTeen, 2012

main character: Anthony “Ant” Jones

reading level: 7.0

Anthony, ‘Ant”,  is not a great student. He cuts classes, has mediocre grades and really has no clear plans for his future. After a recruiter visits his Cleveland area high school, he applies to attend a private boarding school in Maine. Ant doesn’t really want to attend the school, but his mother and the school principal both think it would be good for him. When one of Ant’s closest friends falls victim to a random shooting, Ant thinks that maybe Maine is exactly where he needs to be.

When I think of a young Black man from Cleveland being transported to a private, predominately White school in Maine, I think of so many ways that young man just wouldn’t fit in. However, Walker delivers a story that keenly focuses on specific ways that Ant struggles not so much to fit in as to grow up and find out who he is. His search for identity is amplified in the story by Ant wanting to be called by his nickname while everyone at the new school insists on calling him “Tony”.

 What’s the last one: You said five things, right?”

 George waved the finger back and forth.”You’re right,” he said. “This last one is the most important. No matter how much time you spend with them and how hard they try to do it, most of the kids here will never really know you.” He put the finger down.

 Anthony frowned. “Why not? Because I shouldn’t let them?”

 “Because they can’t, “ George said sadly. “To them, you’re not just Tony, you’re that black guy, Tony, or their black friend, Tony, or that crazy black guy, Tony who went berserk at the brook. The color of our skin makes them blind, sometimes. These Belton kids can’t see us because they can’t get passed the blackness.” He smiled at Anthony. “Think about your name, son. For real. No matter how many times you tell them, they still keep calling you what they want.”

 Anthony agreed but then thought about it.

Ant’s emotional response to  situations such as at the brook quickly teaches him that the only thing he achieves from his outburst is alienation. He has to fully understand what he is responding to and why. He has to grow up! In the midst of trying to understand his anger,  Ant is developing friendships with the handful of other Blacks who attend the school and each of them has a different perspective on what to expect from the school.

Racial tension is intensified in the town by the presence of Sudanese immigrants who the Whites in the town see as taking all the jobs. Ant becomes aware of the tensions during his trips into the city and it’s these confrontations that lead him to clarifying his concept of who he is and what type of person he wants to be.

Ant is a young man who is given a rare opportunity. He’s able to get away from the violence that surrounds his home and to get a better education than would be available to him. Without giving him any significant skills or talents, Walker manages to create a character we can not only believe in, but for whom we can want the best.

Think this sounds interesting? Join me tomorrow for an interview with the author!

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