Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)'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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's review
Sep 26, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, nonfiction, cat-youth-audience, nf-bios-memoir

I first heard of this book in Sheila's blog when she reviewed this during the Banned Books week last year. At that point, I wasn't too keen on reading the book, but when I saw the movie pop up in my Netflix recommendations list, I decided to check it out. I didn't have too many expectations from it, but by the end of the movie, I loved it. Who doesn't love a rebel? And I mean a good rebel -- someone who succeeds in something when everyone else expected him/her to fail. The movie was everything about changing your destiny, and all through my life, I've never tolerated the 'fate' and 'destiny' philosophies that anyone dished out to me. I like to believe that I'm the only person who can control my life -- of course there's the butterfly effect and then there is the case where someone else's actions can affect what happens to you, but they are usually single events, and most times, one can always decide one's reactions to such events. Would you rather wallow in depression because you are going through a life-changing mess or would you rather change the way you respond to that mess?

The Freedom Writers' Diary is the strongest proof I've seen about how you can make a difference to your life and to those around you. All the kids in Erin Gruwell's class have already been written off as failures, by other teachers, other students, and even their own parents. Worse, none of the kids could identify with Erin -- a white woman staying in a safe suburban residence, with no teaching experience and who had no idea of life in the violent gang-controlled streets of LA. Since even their previous teachers had given up on them, they gave Erin just a month before they believed she would move on.

The following 300-odd pages of this book shows so well how every single student has been transformed by Erin's teaching methods, the students' life experiences, their choices and willingness to perhaps hope that maybe they'll come through it all fine. So many stories in the book are moving. There's the student who's the sole caretaker of the family and is on the verge of eviction because he/she has to pay 800 bucks in rent and the car payment is also due. Then the girl who had a really wonderful family life at one point and within a few years, the mother left, the father remarried to a woman she and her siblings couldn't adjust to; soon they moved to an aunt's place who loved her a lot until her lover returned from the jail and the kids were back to square one -- homeless and family-less. There's the boy whose family doesn't have a home to stay in because they are so poor. There's the girl whose parents stole her stuff so that they can fund their drug addiction. There's also the girl who had to bring herself up because her mother was tired of being a mother. There's the boy whose father doesn't think his son will succeed and offers no hope or encouragement.

So many of the diary entries make you really sad, but by the end of each entry, I still smiled because the kids weren't writing with despair, they were writing with hope. They made promises to themselves and expressed their gratitude that they at least still had the Freedom Writers. Erin Gruwell and her class were a symbol of hope for all these kids. It's beautiful reading about how these kids change and how they do and wish good for others too. Their hostility is very evident in the initial diary entries, but as I read, I could vividly see the changes happening. It's also a reminder that just because a kid walks around with a gun or a knife, it doesn't mean that they are bad. It means they need help and there are no adults offering them that.

I've never had a teacher like Erin Gruwell, but then I've never been in a challenged class like Erin's. Still, every school needs someone like her -- if not to help those 'written-off' kids, then to at least empathize with the kids in their class. All kids have problems -- maybe not as tragic as the circumstances of the kids in this book, but certainly important problems that can have far-reaching consequences later on in life.
If four years ago someone would have told me that Ms. G was going to last more than a month, I would have laughed straight in their face. She wasn't supposed to make it, we weren't supposed to make it. But look at us now, the sure-to-drop-out kids are sure to reach higher education. No one would have thought of the "bad-asses" as high school graduates -- as any kind of graduates. Yet, in four years we will be college graduates. Our names will be on the alumni lists of Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, and even Harvard.

I loved both the movie and the book -- both are remarkably similar in plotline, but the book is just a bunch of numbered diary entries (you never know the identity of most kids and that lends a poignant innocent feel to the book). In the movie, there are some characters that are more central to the storyline. I loved all the actors who portrayed the students. They really got well into the skin of their characters. The movie also gives a personal look into Erin's life, which is not present in the book. As I understand it, the movie also used Erin's memoir to put together the various threads. I will recommend both the movie and the book to you -- they are both well-done. If like me, you aren't feeling motivated to read the book, you should certainly watch the movie then. I promise that you'll be checking out the book the very next day.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by ♥Xeni♥ (new)

♥Xeni♥ I think I have seen this movie... I think I recall something about the end saying that it was based on a true story, but I didn't realize that it was turned into a book!

Great review! :D

Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day) Oh, it was the other way round. The book was turned into a movie. Both so good! :)

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