This entry marks the last step in my search for books that would fit my students request for “stuff with more DRAMA” (emphasis theirs)
By the end of this last year, after a lot of pondering (and some pretty blunt student responses) I realized that DRAMA meant intense, life-altering events or emotions that revolve around relatable, personal issues.
Sharon M. Draper may be the best provider of DRAMA today. With multiple series and two powerful trilogies, she has managed to create tangible communities that captivate young readers. In the process she’s racked up awards, becoming a perennial favorite for Coretta Scott King awards
Tears of a Tiger offers a DRAMAtic story through a hodgepodge of sources. Letters, English class assignments, phone calls and newspaper articles, each take a turn in telling the story of a young athlete named Andrew Jackson, whose drunk driving accident killed teammate and friend Robert Washington. His friends look on as Andrew attempts to control himself and cope with his grief, but a culture of stoic silence allows emotions to boil up just behind the words we read until another explosion is bound to occur.
As a protagonist, Andy shows a quiet depth to his friends and remains somewhat unknowable even to the readers. He doesn’t want to come out and emote all over the page with his angst and sorrow, but a practiced eye can see his problems and connect. The unique style of storytelling gives readers a number of ways into each character’s emotions. Without devolving into maudlin monologues, the author sets up the character’s feelings and uses familiar “teenager lingo” to communicate the plot. All this enables Draper to spin our focus off of “imagery” or “figurative language” and back to issues of depression, alcohol abuse, as well as the social pressures and expectations placed upon young black men.
There are times when Tears of a Tiger‘s concentration on “teenager lingo”and abandonment of typical novel imagery work against it (especially since the teenager lingo in question dates back to 1994). The style of writing is a nice contrast with typical English books, but doesn’t seem to provide the same rigor that other books might. Impressed as I am with Draper’s thematic work and creation of DRAMA, I may keep looking for more complex texts to include in the curriculum.