Bad Boy: A Memoir

 Myers, Walter Dean. Bad Boy: A Memoir. 2001. 224 pp. Lexile 970.

Walter Dean Myers is one of the most important, honored, and widely read writers for teens.  Any unit on biography, autobiography or memoir, or units on Myers’ novels would benefit from this inspiring story of his childhood and teen years until he joined the army at age seventeen.  He grew up with adoptive parents in 1940s Harlem, where he had real problems in school.  Constantly teased for a speech defect, he took to fighting, which made the problems worse, but he still gained admission to Stuyvesant, the prestigious Manhattan public high school.  His growing love of books and then of writing redeemed his life but also divided him from his friends and family.  Especially touching is his account of learning to read from his mother’s True Romance novels.  The memoir looks at how how racism affected his life and his view of his future, and concludes with how he made his way back to writing after his military service.  Absorbing and inspiring.

Fiction Tie-in:  Walter Dean Myers won the first Printz Award for literary excellence in young adult literature for his novel, Monster.  In common with his own memoir, Monster is about a teenage boy who gets in trouble and who expresses himself in writing.  As the protagonist, Steve, deals with being in prison and on trial as an accused accomplice to murder, he writes a screenplay of the trial.  The ambiguity, moral issues, and unusual combination of formats make this popular for teaching as well as independent reading.