Friday, November 9, 2018

Courage by Barbara Binns

After their father died T'Shawn's older brother Lamont took his place as T'Shawn's biggest influence.  All that changed when Lamont became the leader of a local gang and left home, eventually ending up pointing a gun at T'Shawn.  Now T is happy to have Lamont out of his life and is looking forward to joining a local diving team.  The life he is trying to live comes crashing down when his mother tells him Lamont is getting out of prison early and will be moving back home with them.  

For the first three quarters of this book I was absolutely sure that I would be using it with one or more reading programs in the upcoming year.  I'm sure you can see what I'm going from there...  But before we get to the part I didn't like, let me talk about what was so great. 

This book captures so much of the atmosphere of more mature stories about gangs or families dealing with incarceration but in a totally appropriate younger middle school way.  My sixth and seventh graders are handling some of the same issues addressed in books like THUG or Long Way Down but they aren't always ready for those edgier stories.  Courage is something I could put on a required reading list without hesitation. 

T'Shawn is a great character, so wonderfully drawn.  He was crushed by Lamont's gang activity and by the fact that he apparently chose his gang friends over T.  Now he is doing what he thinks is necessary to protect himself and his family, including trying to get him to violate his parole.  He also doesn't hesitate to speak up for himself and others when he observes racism which he faces both at school and in his neighborhood.  But Binns does a great job weaving those incidents into the story smoothly without it being an obvious lesson we're supposed to learn, even though we can learn from them.  T's eventual return to giving Lamont a chance comes about naturally with setbacks along the way.

So what lost me?  The last quarter of the book felt so much more obvious and forced than the story up to that point.  The nuances left and too many issues were pushed in.  T's coach became a caricature and I didn't see any realistic motivation for the revelations from Lamont's girlfriend.  If the story were tidied up and finished with the skill with which it began, this would be something I would recommend all the time.  I'll still booktalk it, but I didn't love it as much as I thought I would.

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