Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Need a Hero

The last book in Sharon M. Draper's Jericho trilogy is called Just Another Hero. It really changed how I perceived November Blues, to the extent that I remember liking it much more than I know I did. In Just Another Hero, Kofi, who has until this point been a secondary character, is trying to find a way to pay for college--MIT to be specific--despite his parents who are either still hitting the party scene or looking for luck at the Argosy Casino while trying to avoid and then beat an addiction to pain killers. The other narrator, Arielle, is currently lonely having pushed away November and her other friends and her boyfriend Jericho. She seems to have the perfect spoiled life with a step-father who gives her $100 a week in allowance and buys her things like an iPhone, but he's very particular to distinguish that it's HIS money that pays for everything and Arielle and her mother should live according to HIS rules. Can she let money buy happiness or will she realize there are more important things?

Figuring out those storylines would have probably been sufficient in this novel, but in addition there's a person who is about to bring a gun into school. Is it a) Eddie, the juvenile delinquent who just got out of juvy for the Warriors of Distinct stunt pulled last year, b) Ozrick, the incredible smart but horribly picked on computer genius, or c) Crazy Jack with his loud cymbals and a desire to splash the world with a noise of color?

Also there's some petty theft going around. Draper does not pull any punches when it comes to getting every storyline imaginable in this novel. But it works.

Probably my favorite part of the novel was how Draper uses Mrs. Witherspoon's Beowulf unit to talk about what really makes a hero. The classroom discussions really stick with Kofi as he tries to figure how what kind of man he's going to be. And the person who turns out to be the hero during the gun incident is totally unexpected. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and this one is particularly satisfying.

The adults in this novel are really good. Some are dangerously flawed like Arielle's step-dad. Several others are just trying to make the best decisions they know how like Arielle's mom--eventually. The teachers are obviously engaged in the classroom and committed to getting the best out of and for their students. It came as little surprise when I learned Draper used to teach English at Walnut Hills, one of the better high schools in the Cincinnati system. (It even has it's own wikipedia article.) The adults aren't dopes and they don't take away from high schoolers*, but they're well-developed characters nonetheless.

It's just a good book. Uber-dramatic, but not in the way that usually makes me roll my eyes. While I knew most of the story line was unrealistic, it still felt authentic. So something was there that overcame the drama. (It's probably the same something that wasn't there in November Blues.) And that makes me want to go back and read the first book of the trilogy. The Battle of Jericho is on my To Be Read shelf right now.

*You know how in teen dramas like the OC and others the parents would get into their own stupid problems and they'd spend half the episode focusing on them? It's not like that. You might want to know more, but not enough to distract from the matter at hand.

No comments: