Friday, January 18, 2008


Harlem Summer

by Walter Dean Myers.

The big gun and big daddy of black children's and teen writers, Myers has painted a vivid picture of Harlem in the 1920s in this story that I suppose would fall under the header of "coming of age," in that Mark grows up a bit and learns some things about himself, the world, and his place in it.

Mark is caught between two very different sides of life and black culture that summer, as he works in the magazine offices of the NAACP's The Crisis, under the direction of some very educated and refined people (including Mr. W.E.B. DuBois), while he spends his evening carousing with friends and accidentally getting caught up in the bootlegging business and running afoul of gangsters. What he really wants lies in neither of these two extremes - he dreams of playing jazz saxophone with his friends in a club, and recording an album.

When everything comes to a head, he discovers a little about what he doesn't want out of life, even if he doesn't quite know exactly what he does want to be, and at the close, we see him make a step in the right direction.

Myers' writing is vivid and jumping with slang and licks of the love of jazz. His writing of Marks' voice brings the whole thing to life in a way that a third person voice just couldn't do, and lets us see Mark's own confusion and how much the young man has ahead of him to learn. A great period piece, the books also includes photos and mini-bios of many of the historical figures and locales mentioned during the story, adding a nice touch for those who are curious.

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