Autobiography of My Dead Brother
To pick up a book written by Walter Dean Myers is to expect nothing less than literary greatness. Among his many accolades, MONSTER was the first winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, a National Book Award Finalist, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book. He has received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults and has penned over 70 award-winning books intended for a wide age range of readers, from picture books to teen novels. His son, Christopher Myers, is a Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor recipient, and has illustrated a number of breathtaking books for young readers, including his solo effort entitled BLACK CAT.
In AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY DEAD BROTHER, it is therefore not surprising that the father and son team has once again created a true-to-life story that is profoundly moving and one that boldly addresses many of the prevailing conflicts confronting urban youth today.
As in many of Dean Myers's other books, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY DEAD BROTHER opens with a bang. Fifteen-year-old Jesse and his friends C.J. and seventeen-year-old Rise are attending a funeral of one of their own from their Harlem neighborhood who was recently gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Understandably, the mood in the church is quite somber and the three boys are faced once again with the reality of living --- and dying --- in the 'hood. After the funeral, the boys separate from their parents and go to the park to hang out. In a rare moment of clarity, Rise says what's on all of their minds: "You know, it's hard when somebody gets wasted. Bobby G was good people and everything, but that's why you have to make your life special every day. You never know when your time is up."
As the novel progresses, the idea of living each day to its fullest weighs differently on each of the boys. Jesse, the artist of the bunch (and the book's narrator), seems to be the most vulnerable of the group. His sensitive and boyish character lends a restive beauty to the story's telling as his urge to "fit in" ebbs and flows along with his struggle to determine what's "right" over what's "cool." C.J. is more stand-offish and prefers to spend most of his time away from the fray in church, playing the organ and expressing himself through his music. Rise is clearly the most brazen of the three, both verbally and physically, and tests his destiny daily by taunting rival neighborhood gangs, dealing coke on the street, and flaunting his carefree attitude by wearing flashy jewelry, driving fancy cars, and sporting a colorful (i.e. profane) vocabulary. When viewed side-by-side, the lives and philosophies of these three boys are the backbone of the story and create a convincing snapshot of what it feels like to be a teenager in Harlem.
Overall, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY DEAD BROTHER is exactly what it sounds like: an in-your-face tale of growing up --- and getting by --- in the inner-city. In Walter Dean Myers's capable hands, this book powerfully addresses issues of race and class, life and death, with a rigor and strength many readers won't find in other contemporary offerings. Young boys especially will relate to Jesse's voice and will of course find solace in Christopher Myers's commanding renderings.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on August 1, 2005
Autobiography of My Dead Brother
- Publication Date: October 31, 2006
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Amistad
- ISBN-10: 0060582936
- ISBN-13: 9780060582937