Last week, I came across these girls in the hall. They were huddled together over a book. "Whatcha reading?" I asked, trying to keep the excitement/glee out of my voice.
They held up the cover. "BANG!" they said. BANG was a book I had never seen.
"Any good?" I said, trying again to maintain an even voice.
"Yeah," they both exclaimed simultaneously.
I looked at the front cover, "I never heard of this book," I said. "Can I read it when you are done?"
"There are more in there," M said, and went back into the classroom to fetch one for me. And so for the past week, we have had our own informal reading club on the playground. The girls ask me how much I have read. What I think. How I think the book will end. And I have loved every minute of it.
BANG is the story of an urban teen named Mann, whose younger brother had been the victim of a gun battle while he was playing on their front porch two years earlier. Mann's parents have retreated into their canyons of grief and Mann is pretty much left to try to process things on his own. He turns to his best friend Kee-lee, the oldest son of a single parent. Mann and Kee-lee, both very talented artists, paint pictures, smoke marijuana, and keep track of the number of people who have been shot in their neighborhood. Mann's father, desperately afraid of losing his remaining son, decides he will help his son and Kee-lee become men. Drawing on African tribal customs, he sends the two on a journey that quickly becomes fatal.
BANG made me incredibly sad. I was saddened by the way grief shredded Mann's family, and especially how it impacted Mann's father. Second, I was saddened by Mann and Kee-lee, two super artistic kids who could make something of their lives; they remind me of way too many kids I teach and know. They have so, so, so much talent and so, so, so much promise, and they have to overcome so, so, so many barriers stand to grow into the shining stars they could be. I was also sad that it was a book where so many of my kids could see themselves.
At the same time, I think it's a book that might be incredibly appealing to urban adolescents. I'm going to try to get my boys to read it this summer.
WARNING: This is definitely YA-- probably not appropriate much below sixth grade.