Wednesday, May 6, 2009
the joy of fishing
I've been fishing again. Okay, still. The kind of fishing I do in my classroom, where I toss out my bait (cool books) and wait for a tug on the line, brings a similar kind of joy and satisfaction to that of real fishing, which I also happen to enjoy. I try to load my tackle box with all the stuff I think my fishies will like: realistic fiction, non-fiction, sports themes, urban literature. They don't always bite, but sometimes the reward comes from just knowing they're considering getting caught.
My latest catch comes using Matt de la Pena's Ball Don't Lie, a story about a hardscrabble inner city kid who devotes his life to playing basketball. Sticky is a young man who makes his home in a variety of foster settings but lives primarily at Lincoln Rec, the gritty L.A. gym where he has found a family among the serious players, mostly black men. Told in the rhythmic, hip-hop language of the street, Sticky’s is a riveting story about a young man’s struggle to attain a college basketball scholarship and deepen his relationship with his girlfriend. Some readers may be thrown off by the disjointed narrative, which loops between past and present. Others see the nonlinear storyline as a reflection of Sticky's own internal struggles as he comes to terms with violent childhood tragedies, numbed emotions, and his sometimes-compulsive behavior (he repeats certain actions such as shoe-tying until they feel right). Teens are strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly teen male voice; the thrilling, realistic basketball action; and the questions about race, identity, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.
Ball Don’t Lie seems to capture both the angst as well as the attention of many young men in the DYS secure treatment program. Kids gravitate toward this book because they can see themselves in it. It’s been particularly rewarding to see kids open themselves to this story – kids who would have previously described themselves as either non-readers or not lovers of reading. BDL is something of a pivot point for many DYS kids; this appears to be a book with the potential to change a young person’s mind about reading. I see it as a great, engaging story that holds keys to further doors into the world of literature.