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.