Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

Monday, February 8, 2010

When I first got to Progress, it freaked me out to be locked in a room and unable to get out. But after a while, when you got to thinking about it, you knew nobody could get in, either.

It seems as if the only progress that's going on at Progress juvenile facility is moving from juvy jail to real jail. Reese wants out early, but is he supposed to just sit back and let his friend Toon get jumped? Then Reese gets a second chance when he's picked for the work program at a senior citizens' home. He doesn't mean to keep messing up, but it's not so easy, at Progress or in life. One of the residents, Mr. Hooft, gives him a particularly hard time. If he can convince Mr. Hooft that he's a decent person, not a criminal, maybe he'll be able to convince himself.
From Goodreads

Walter Dean Myers has never held back from writing about the gritty truth no matter how uncomfortable it might be to read. Lockdown is yet another example of how Myers, through authentic dialogue and exceptional characterization, gets into a troubled youth’s head to show that underneath it all a kid is still just a kid.

One of aspects of Myers writing I have always been drawn to is his natural ability to write believable dialogue that readily carries the plot along. When you combine this talent with the characters thoughts and actions, the story moves steadily without long descriptive moments that can completely bog down the flow of the story.

However, dialogue is only as great as an author’s ability to create believable characters and Myers is very talented at doing just that. Reese is 14-years-old and definitely made a serious error in judgment when he stole prescription pads from a doctor’s office to sell to a neighborhood drug dealer. Did he deserve to go to juvy? Yes, and Myers’ tone does not in any way try to prove Reese’s decision was based on his mother’s drug addiction, or his father’s abusiveness. Instead using first person narrative, Myers reveals Reese’s thoughts and experiences as he deals with his poor choice. Myers also does not automatically expect the reader to accept that Reese has learned his lesson just because he is incarcerated. Reese continues to make choices that seem reasonable to a 14-year-old in a juvenile detention center, but had me shaking my head.  Through Myers characterization, Reese also begins to understand how survival inside lockdown is more than just doing time. It is easy to see why many youthful offenders end up inside the criminal system as repeat offenders. Reese frequently thinks about his future and worries that he will never be able to change. He also philosophizes about the criminal system and his future ...

... all my life I was going to be in detention. All my life I was going to be locked down in some cell or in some life with steel bars, keeping me from getting up and going someplace or dying and feeling bad anymore.

Thankfully, Myers does allow hope into Reese’s story. Reese gets a small break while in detention when he is chosen for a work release program at a nursing home.  There he comes into contact with Mr. Hooft, who is not very tolerant of Reese, and is actually quite mean at times. However, it is through this interaction that Reese shows he is capable of restraining his emotions. This restraint made me hopeful because it proved that Reese was more than a loose cannon ready to fight regardless of the consequences. Reese’s love for his little sister also provided a glimmer of hope because Reese wanted to make her happy, and she gave him a reason to keep trying.

My only complaint with Lockdown is minor. At one point in the book Toon, a boy Reese befriends in detention, gives Reese a copy of Lord of the Flies. While the allusion to the hierarchy of the juvy center was not lost on me, I was disappointed that Myers just dropped the allusion with the gift. Reese never read it, and Myers never brought it up again.

Lockdown is not a happily ever after book, when you come to the last page there is not a lot to feel giddy about, hopeful yes, thoughtful definitely, but if you only like books that tie things up neatly with a bow then this may not be the book for you.

1 Delicious Comments:

Margaret Ann Abrahams said...

I heard Walter Dean Myers speak at an SCBWI conference. His presentation and personal story were highlights of the event for me. I'll have to look for Lockdown - thanks. And thanks for commenting on my blog too. Even post comment challenge, I'm trying to make it a habit.

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