Leaning into the reality of young black men.

Summary:

As a boy growing up in the city of Baltimore in the 1980s, Ta-Nehisi Coates was surrounded by male figures who influenced his life. Primary among them was his father Paul was a man who was a practicing fascist with strict rules and high expectations for his sons, and his older brother Big Bill, who lived for the street life. But as Ta-Nehisi explains, he was not about fighting. He saw what was happening around him, tried to duck from it as often as he could, and felt very alone. Despite the events taking place decades ago, Coates' experiences, internal struggles, and emotions transcend time.


Parent Perspective:
The power of Coates' experiences jumps from the page of this slim memoir. It may be set during the 1980s, but its emotions and realities are timeless. Internal struggles and preteen angst, family dynamics, and peer pressure. It is all there. Coates' examples of status, "unspoken rules," and bullying will resonate with readers. They will feel deeply the "coming of age" struggles - particularly as they relate to parental relationships.

Ta-Nehisi talks about the rise of crack and what it did to his family and neighborhood. Today's reader can easily substitute the word "opioid" and, sadly, the realities are current events. The opioid epidemic is to today's America what crack was decades ago.

Coates' realities are a sharp, brutal contrast to the downtown attractions that were Little Italy, the Inner Harbor, and the Baltimore Orioles. I was born and raised in the Baltimore suburbs. I vaguely remember stories of the evening news, but, based on what I have read, clearly with not enough urgency nor interest to change what was happening.

This is an important, highly recommended book for teens and young adults. Coates lays out beautifully how the environment in which we move influences our thoughts and behaviors, and the choices we have in navigating them.


Reader Enjoyment Factors:

Vivid writing simultaneously transports readers into Ta-Nehisi Coates' world and grounds them in their own experiences. An amazing read. 

Content Awareness Factors:

Violence is a continual thread. Events include fist-fights to gang attacks to gun violence. There are also references to drug use.


Type of Book:
This is a first-person history set in Inner City Baltimore in the 1980s.
Educational Themes:

The Beautiful Struggle is a memoir, but Coates pushes you first to look at the big picture (racism, gangs, drugs) and then draw down to the personal level of his own experiences and choices. His family relationships - particularly with his father and older brother - present some interesting questions.

At one point Ta-Nehisi said his feelings for his father were somewhere between 'hatred and complete reverence." How would your readers describe Paul? Are there life lessons or "Knowledge" later in the book that points them to something Paul taught his sons? What warning signs - if any - could Paul have seen with Bill?

Drugs, bullying, and gun violence are also woven into the book. What similarities do your readers see between the 1980s and now? Do we address the issues in the same way? differently? Has there been progress? stayed the same? or gotten worse? What are your readers' ideas on ways to talk about this book and use it to spark change?

If they could use tools we use today, do they see opportunities to make a difference or create different outcomes for kids at Lemmel or Big Bill?

Reading Level:
6.0
Recommended Age To Read By Yourself:
14 and Up
Recommended Age To Read Together:
13 and Up
Purchase Recommendation:
Most definitely borrow! This is an exceptionally well-written, thought-provoking book.

Title The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir (Adapted for Young Adults)
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publisher Delacorte Books for Young Readers © 2021
ISBN 9781984894021
Material Hard Cover
Cost $17.99
Genres Biography, History, 1980s-1999
Cybils
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