Review: Lockdown

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers. Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins. 2010. Copy borrowed from friend.

The Plot: Maurice “Reese” Anderson will be fifteen in a month. For the last twenty-two months, he’s been at the Progress Center for young offenders aged twelve to sixteen. He’s on a special work-release program a few days a week and hoping to be able to get out several months before his release date. Getting out means going home — but what does home offer? Is he destined to be one of those young men who only “visit” home between arrests?

The Good: Reese tells his own story. He owns his past and doesn’t make any excuses. He stole prescription pads from a doctor’s office, sold them to a local drug dealer, and when that drug dealer was arrested, so was Reese. Reese is incredibly real; his voice echoes in your head long after his story ends.

After almost two years in Progress, Reese has a fatalistic approach to life: “What was happening was just happening. That’s the way life was. Shit just came together, and if it rolled in your direction you got messed up.” Right now a lot is rolling in Reese’s direction. Back home, his brother Willis may be getting into the same trouble as Reese while his mother may be using drugs again. Younger sister Icy has big dreams, but she’s without adults who will help make them real. At the facility for senior citizens Reese is working at, crotchety old Pieter Hooft is giving Reese a hard time, making racist statements and accusing Reese of stealing. Most challenging of all is life within Progress. Reese wants to get out, but he can’t help getting in fights. Toon, only twelve and in Progress for being truant, is being targeted by older boys. Helping Toon means putting his own freedom and life at risk.

Pieter Hooft is an interesting addition to Reese’s life. He’s cranky and lonely and sick and, it turns out, has more in common with Reese than one would think. As a child, roughly Reese’s age, Hooft was in a Japanese prison camp in Dutch Indonesia. Hooft’s stories of how prisoners acted, how they treated each other, gives Reese some insight into not only his own life but into the other prisoner’s. Insight into the urge to fight, to hit back: “Because fighting is good. When you fight you’re alive, you’re somebody. You’re not standing in the corridor with your hands behind your back. Maybe that’s it, that you’re free, swinging your fists, letting people know who you are. Even if you’re going to die. . . . Maybe he knew he was going to die but needed to be somebody for that minute.”

Reese feels like he has no choices. But does he? And if he believes he has no choices, does that mean that once he’s released something will happen and he’ll just wind up back in Progress? If he believes fighting is freedom, will he ever be free? Myers brings you into Reese’s world and the limitations, offering no easy answers. I read somewhere that any good book ends not with an ending but a beginning. Lockdown ends with the beginning of Reese’s life.

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