Thursday, February 26, 2009

IF I GROW UP by Todd Strasser

When you live in the projects and are faced daily with gang violence, drive-by shootings, teen pregnancy, and poverty, the chance of growing up and living a decent life as an adult dwindle with each passing year. Todd Strasser takes readers into the life of one teen living in just such a world.

DeShawn lives with his grandmother and his sister. His grandmother cleans for a living, but even though she's not old by the suburbs' standards, she is old and tired here in the inner city. DeShawn goes to school and wants to stay on the straight and narrow, but everyone he knows is involved in gangs or drugs, so the pressure is on.

IF I GROW UP starts when DeShawn is twelve years old. As each year passes he finds it more and more difficult to keep focused on the things he needs to do to find success in the world most of us know. The pull of the gang lifestyle with its promise of money and power are tempting. Being part of the Disciples would guarantee there would be food on the table, diapers for his sister's twin babies, and money for the rent every month.

When it becomes evident who was responsible for the death of a young child, DeShawn struggles with a feeling of needing to even the score. That's part of the curse of gang life. Once there is one killing, everyone wants to seek revenge which creates an out of control spiraling effect with one drive-by shooting after another. Is DeShawn the one to beat the odds and stay in control of his life by staying in school, getting a decent job, and make his family proud, or will he end up like the rest of the young boys and men of the projects?

Todd Strasser examines the tragedy of life in the inner city. The statistics reveal odds stacked against the youth of our cities. Strasser is able to paint a realistic picture of this tragic world, but at the same time he keeps this novel free of the extreme use of foul language, explicit sex, and graphic drug use most novels of this type usually employ. This makes IF I GROW UP a story that can be shared and discussed in any classroom setting. I plan to use it as a read-aloud with my students to help them appreciate how lucky they are to be growing up in a rural, small town atmosphere.


Anonymous said...

Loved the book , it's one of my favourites by Strasser.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of my life growing up in the projects as a kid. DeShawn reminds me so much of the kids that I grew up with.

Readingjunky said...

The kids are really liking it as a read-aloud. In fact, today one boy asked if I had anything like it. He said he was a real country boy and he was interested in hearing about the city life.

IF I GROW UP is letting the kids in my small town school know that they aren't as "ghetto" as they like to pretend.

Erica Danielle B said...

This was such a great book, I have traveled from home to home all my life, not knowing where the next meal was coming from or anything. I was involved in a gang, and skipped school, and did everything wrong including smoking pot (the only drug i've done). Now i'm 16 years old and can't stop thinking about drugs and boys. I wish i would of had the tolerance DeShawn did to go so long without doing what he needs to stay out of trouble. In the end, i would of had to do what he did for my family. I was very upset with the outcome, but in the end its all a learning expierence.

Christine said...

It sounds a lot like many Walter Dean Myers' books. If you have students who are interested in reading about inner city kids, try some of his books. I teach in an inner city school so my students really connnect with the characters.