Black Elephants's Reviews > The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them

The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell
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Feb 17, 09

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in May, 2007

The only reason I picked up this book was because it happened to be lying around the house, and I needed something to read. I'd heard of the movie with Hillary Swank and intended (and still do) to stay away from it as I believed it was another "Gangsta's Paradise" cliche: white teacher, colored students, they all dance and learn. When I picked up the book, I thought it would provide a few anecdotes of interest before I returned it to its pile on the floor where it would disappear under weightier matters.

Three hours later, past midnight nearing 1 a.m., I finished the diary.

As proclaimed by the authors, the diary is a continuation of the message and work carried on by other famous diarists: Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic, in particular. Each entry is numbered to anonymize the individual author and universalize the collective experience of the students. "Chapters" are school semesters, and what was amazing to me was that the diary was a story. It followed the students' journey from being underdog academics to accepting awards in NY, teaching graduate classes and going off to college. What was also interesting was how the later entries started to reflect what the students had learned. There were references to Dylan Thomas, Holden Caulfield and, of course, Anne and Zlata all made as nonchalantly as a gangster sign. It's also amazing to see how the teacher Erin Gruwell got caught up in the momentum of her class's enthusiasm. For instance, a generic letter assignment to write a letter to Zlata turned into the class's full-fledged attempt to invite the Bosnian diarist to come visit them in Long Beach— and it works! In Gruwell's process to find Zlata and not fail her students, she befriends Holocaust survivors like Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide Anne Frank, as well as Zlata and her family and other important figures of tolerance.

The movie I expect is preachy, but the book is not at all. The Freedom Writers tell it as it is and never tack a moral on the end. It is, instead, their attempt to prove the written word has more power over a gun in hand, and in my case, I am a believer in that cliche 100%.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Terri Lynn (new)

Terri Lynn The movie is actually excellent and in no way preachy.Erin's love and concern and growing friendship with the kids are really shown clearly. Beautiful movie and inspiring.


Black Elephants Terri wrote: "The movie is actually excellent and in no way preachy.Erin's love and concern and growing friendship with the kids are really shown clearly. Beautiful movie and inspiring."

Thanks for your thoughts!


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