Thursday, May 27, 2010

Riot, by Walter Dean Myers

In the summer of 1863 New York City was rocked by violence when the federal government, desperate for new military recruits for the Union army during the Civil War, passed the Enrollment Act. This allowed the government to draft any man between the ages of 20 and 45 into military service. Many recent immigrants, especially the Irish who recently had moved from Ireland to escape the potato famine, rose up in arms against a war they did not feel was theirs. To make matters worse, part of the law allowed the rich to pay a substitute $300 to serve for them. This angered a large number of the poor. Crowds turned violent, buildings were burned down, and African Americans were assaulted and lynched. In four days over 1,000 people were killed and 50 large buildings burned by fire.

Walter Dean Myers new novel, Riot, is set in New York City during this tumultuous time. Claire, the 15 year old daughter of an African American father and Irish mother, finds her loyalties to her family and friends tested as the City is torn apart by racial violence.

What set’s this story apart is that the narrative is arranged like a movie script, with the location of each “shot” set up for you. For example: “AERIAL SHOT, then the sound of music rises as the camera slowly moves in once again. The streets of Lower Manhattan are indistinct but sharpen gradually. . . . .” This makes the book both dramatic and easy to read! This is the same style Myers used in his popular book Monster.