Myers, Walter Dean. Bad Boy. New York: Amistad-HarperCollins, 2001. Print.
Children’s book author Walter Dean Myers traces his childhood and adolescence in Harlem. Myers went to live with the Deans, the family of his father’s first wife, at the age of four after his own mother passed away. Self-described as a busy child, Myers had a speech problem and switched schools several times due to fighting, eventually ending up in an accelerated junior high for bright students and academic high school for science. In secret, he became a voracious reader and writer, but began to lose himself as he aged, confused by social expectations. Myers was a habitual truant in high school, missed his own graduation and lied to join the military at age 17, before realizing his place as an author.
Harlem, New York, primarily in the 1940s and 1950s. At the end, the author offers a follow-up on how his adult life has turned since.
Point of View:
1st person (the author)
Identity, family, urban life, coming of age, importance of reading and writing.
Myers’ story is an engaging look at the early influences that formed him into a writer. His descriptions are sometimes humorous (for example, Mrs. Dodson, a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West) and colorful, helping the reader to picture the Harlem he grew up in. Even the titles of each chapter draws the reader in, evoking curiosity as to what will happen next in his life.
Myers’ observations of life in the city for a black child during the mid-20th century are realistic and astute. He acknowledges that his experience during that period in the north differed from what many blacks encountered in southern states. However, we also learn of racial inequalities that affected Myers’ identity and development, such as the “bull work” he sought to avoid in the garment district and the frustration he felt over hiding his interests because they were not “black enough.”
The book appears to be geared toward the middle school and high school readers that are normally the audiences for his other books. However, as memoirs go, the writing could easily be appropriate for an adult audience as well because the content is not approached in a uniquely juvenile way. One could assume that the interest level of this book corresponds with Myers’ status as a children’s author, since youth fans would stand to be the most interested in learning more about him.
I found the book to be an enjoyable read. It satisfied most of the curiosity I had regarding the author’s background and family and the meaning of the title. I thought the title of Bad Boy was a bit of a stretch, though Myers did suggest at the end that he did leave some stuff out. It saddened me to witness his identity confusion as an adolescent and his downward familial and academic spiral. Myers’ success is a rare happy ending compared to other stories of struggling urban youth. It definitely points to the power of books and the importance of adult influence in the lives of young people.