Bang by Sharon Flake

August 7, 2009

Bang
Sharon G. Flake
ISBN 078681844-1
Hyperion Books for Children, 2005
Grade 8 and up
Urban Fiction

BANG! It seems like everyday the count gets higher on Mann and Kee-Lee’s running tally of neighborhood deaths. In an attempt to save the boys when the odds are stacked against them, Mann’s father sends the two alone into the “jungle”, emulating an African tradition.

Summary:

Mann’s younger brother was killed two years ago, an innocent bystander in a shooting. The family is having a difficult time healing from the loss; the process isn’t made any easier by the constant threat of violence and death in their neighborhood. Mann  is a good kid who enjoys riding horses at a rundown stable and painting, but Mann and Kee-Lee’s innocence is threatened more and more every day.

As a last resort to save his son and his friend from the dangers that surround them, Mann’s father sends the boys on a survival quest of a sort, abandoning them in the woods to find their way home. After days of thirst, hunger, humiliation, frustration, anger and sadness, the boys make their way back to the city. Unwelcome in their own homes, the pair finds a place at Kee-Lee’s aunt’s house. There, they find themselves even more wrapped up in illicit dealings, as they become the aunt’s errand boys and are rented out as house painters to earn their keep. Through their trials art keeps them sane. Ultimately, Mann and Kee-Lee become victims of their environment when Kee-Lee is shot in a devastating moment. Mann flees the scene. He has a decision to make: continue on his downward spiral or learn the meaning of his name and reclaim his life.

Critique:

Bang caught me off guard. Significant elements of this book confounded me: a stable in ‘hood or a father sending his son on a quest to become a man with no warning? I didn’t buy these plot devices, more the stable than anything else. Mann’s father is so broken by his son’s death that his seriously insane act of desperation is almost plausible. Despite the odd decisions about the plot, Flake’s writing style and characters really shine through. Bang was heartbreaking, I had to put this one down. Flake beautifully conveys the torment that Mann’s family daily experiences as a result of their family member’s death.
Curriculum Ties:
Bang would be an interesting inclusion in a World Culture’s unit exploring various traditions where boys and girls are initiated into adulthood.

Controversy:

Child abuse, violence, illegal activity, language.

Ask challengers to read the entire book if they have not already, refer them to reviews and awards won by the author.

Selection Rationale:

This is a very unique story in which everything is not tied up neatly, a realistic quality that many readers will appreciate.

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2006

“This disturbing, thought-provoking novel will leave readers with plenty of food for thought and should fuel lively discussions.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Page 291, Mann begins his “Last Supper” painting of all the men lost to the streets.
In Mann’s voice, reflect on the quest your father sent you on.

About the Author:

Sharon Flake has written six books for young adults, has a degree in English and has lived in Pittsburgh for thirty years. Her books have received two Coretta Scott Kind Awards.

Bronx Masquerade
Nikki Grimes
ISBN 0-14-250189-1
Puffin, 2002
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

What happens when eighteen students decide to give up the masquerade?

Summary:

Mr. Ward, a high school teacher in the Bronx develops open mic days in his classroom. The opportunity for self-expression and exploration is empowering for many students. Some students were already poets, some write for the first time. Through their poetry, the students break down barriers and destroy stereotypes. They explore self-esteem, body image, abuse, ethnicity, stereotypes, friendship, and art. These are teens who are daily participating in the Bronx masquerade and ready to break out of the box. Their experience culminates in a newspaper article, (finally, one that focuses on teens in a positive light), and a school assembly where the students read their poems.

Critique:

The format of this book is interesting and will appeal to readers. Grimes is an excellent writer, successfully developing eighteen distinct voices in Bronx Masquerade. Many readers will find themselves inspired by this positive story.

Curriculum Ties:

Incorporate Bronx Masquerade into classroom units on poetry or drama; excellent read aloud option; would be great for a drama class.

Controversy:

Addresses issues of sexuality and abuse in a non-explicit manner.

Refer challengers to reviews and awards won by Bronx Masquerade, as well as Nikki Grimes’ reputation as a young adult author.

Selection Rationale:

This nontraditional format will interest readers and provide lots of fodder for discussion. The story has a positive tone and really shows the importance of portraying teens in a positive manner.

ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2007

ALA Quick Picks for Young Adult Readers, 2003

“This inventive literary format encourages expression and just might have students begging for an open mike in their own classrooms.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Select any of the poems written by Mr. Ward’s students to read aloud.


About the Author:

Nikki Grimes grew up in New York and has been writing since the age of six. She is a poet and novelist, although she claims the title “poet” more readily. She has written many award winning books, including three novels for young adults.