Dora's Reviews > Black Boy White School

Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker
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's review
May 16, 2012

it was amazing
Read in May, 2012

This weekend I had the honor of reading the first novel of my favorite high school English teacher. Brian Walker was the first person to teach me how to build an argument in a paper. I remember whenever I'd give an opinion about what we read he'd shout WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE!! And send us scrambling through our book to find a quotation. Brian always had such moving and insightful things to say about race, things that impacted me even then as a naive privileged white girl and I've continued to think about as an adult, especially now that I married a black man.

This book is incredibly moving. It's written for a young adult audience but there is enough subtle symbolism and important topics to be thought provoking for adult readers. There are a lot of frightening adult themes-- drugs, swears & slurs, gun violence, etc-- that could turn off some teachers and parents, but in my opinion I think it was refreshing to have these very real facts of life not sugar-coated. Trust kids, they can handle it.

Walker eloquently-- and with great subtlety-- demonstrates how non-homogenous the black experience is and how many white people have trouble understanding that. Ant has a different lived experience than the other black kids in the school (and among them, their perspectives on race vary wildly, from Gloria to George), but no one realizes it. The town is filled with Somali immigrants, which adds to the tense race relations in town. And there's one black teen ("Claude") who doesn't talk to the other black kids at all. And yet the people at the school can't understand that all black people are not the same- they assume he's from Brooklyn, call him "Tony" without asking if he likes that nickname, and more.

Walker also demonstrates the bidirectionality of this assumption-making: Ant thinks all the kids at his school must have butlers, learns later on that this is not true, and that the white kids also have diversity within them.

The school environment was very interesting as well, and beautifully portrayed. I loved the complex way a school can be supportive and open minded in some ways and yet still demonstrate some of the ignorance and subtle racism even the best intentioned people can harbor. My favorite was the scene with the headmaster, where the headmaster enthusiastically tells Ant he'd love to talk to him about his ideas, and Ant tries to raise some important race issues and the headmaster says "we'll talk about this later!".

Of course, I thought back to my own experience at a private New England boarding school (the same school where the author still teaches!). I wondered how much Walker pulled from his own childhood experience (that is very similar to Ant's) and how much came from my school. I loved my school, and as an adult, I see most of my favorite teachers are still there, which reinforces my belief that it is a wonderful place. The school in the book was supportive of Ant, which reminded me of my experience.

I could go on and on- there is so much to talk about with this novel! But I'll stop rambling and conclude that this was a truly wonderful book and I hope more people read it and it gets more buzz. If you enjoyed "Prep", or disliked "Prep" but were interested in the topic, and if you are interested in coming of age novels and/or race relations in America, you will like this book.
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Reading Progress

07/03 marked as: read

Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-5 of 5) </span> <span class="smallText">(5 new)</span>

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message 1: by Erica (new)

Erica this is a harper book! someone in tom's dept designed the cover.

message 2: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Lovely review, Dora.

Dora Thanks Will! Erica, I noticed it was Harper! Nice cover. Someone told me that Brian originally wanted the title to be "Look Both Ways". At first I thought the title "Black Boy White School" was more than a little heavy handed, but then again, at least the reader knows exactly what the book is going to be about and is drawn in.

It's always interesting when someone you knew writes a book. I was pleased that this was as great as it was.

Jules Hucke Great review :)

Freddy Reyes This was an amazingly inspiring and thoughtful book. I was born in Brooklyn and lived there much of my life(stereotypical reference to the book) and moved to loudoun county virginia, one of the richest counties in the U.S even though I am far from rich, and had to experience what Anthony went through. This book had a great impact on my life and I absoulutely loved it.

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