My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This story depicts the struggles of a young man and his friends in the inner city. Javier is in seventh grade and joins a gang because the gang says so - they jump him and after being badly beaten in the initation he is in, no choice in the matter. But he does chose to stay as out of things as possible. Students will understand his struggle to be himself, when the friends he has grown up with turn to drug use and violence. His father is in and out of jail, more in than out. When he comes home things are great, but eventually he breaks a law and ends up back inside.
Javier has one thing going for him. A teacher that he learns to like and respect takes an interest in him. When he is forced to do a service project, that teacher recruits him as an aide to the special ed class she teaches. At first concerned that his friends will call him just another "retard", he learns to care for the kids he cares for, and have pride when he can help them. And when that teacher lets him know she beleives in him, his natural intelligence and empathy come to the fore. Dontae and the other kids need him, and that need serves as a counter pull to the call of the gang, the increasing violent confrontations his friends are involved in, and the drugs that surround him.
At times the story gets a little preachy. But it shows the difference a caring adult can make if he/she says just the right word at the right time in a young person's life.
Yes, there is cursing, there is a gang, and these are real kids, not saits. And yes, there is drug use, one of many temptations Javier and other real kids have to confront and learn to avoid. Watching Javier say no may help other kids learn to do the same thing. And watching Javier help Dontae and the other kids int he class serves as an example of the power that caring for someone else can have for the giver.
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