Autobiography of My Dead Brother – Walter Dean Myers

9780060582913-LWhile this wasn’t a book I particularly enjoyed, I absolutely see its merits. Autobiography of My Dead Brother is the story of 15-year-old Jesse who grows up in a violent New York neighbourhood.  He’s smart, talented and although he’s got all the typical teenage issues – he’s not going to make decisions which adversely impact his life.

His best friend is Rise. Rise is seventeen and he and Jesse have been friends since they were little.

His mother likes to tell me that when Rise first saw me, he was scared of me. She said they had a puppy and a turtle and he liked to play with them both, but when he saw me he started crying.

I didn’t remember any of that, but me and Rise grew up to be really close. He was more than my best friend – he was really like a brother.

Myers’ novel opens, Jesse and his friend C.J. are at the funeral of their friend, Bobby, who has been killed in a drive-by shooting. While Jesse and Bobby are horrified by the event because, after all, Bobby wasn’t doing anything, just sitting on his stoop, Rise thinks Bobby “went out like a man.” It’s an early indication that Jesse and Rise might be heading in two different directions.

Rise wants Jesse, an artist, to draw his autobiography and so the reader starts to see Rise through Jesse’s very focused lens. We see his “funny way of walking, with one shoulder higher than the other”; we see Rise’s home life (he lives with his mom and aging maternal grandparents); we see Jesse start to feel the troubling disconnect between him and Rise.

Myers also captures the adults in this book very well. None of these kids come from uncaring families. While some come from single parent households, all the parents work and care and even the police are painted as fair and reasonable human beings. But there still manages to be trouble for Jesse and his friends.

The book is interesting; the drawings are great (done by Christopher Myers, the author’s brother) and Myers certainly writes authentically about the experience of  – in this case – African American kids who just happen to live in a neighbourhood where crappy things happen. Ultimately though, this is a story about the friendship between two kids which unravels over time.

I know a lot of boys would really enjoy it.