The thing that I love best about reading a book by Walter Dean Myers is that I get a different story every time. While I may not always love that story or find it to be the best ever, I like that Myers is not a one note author. All The Right Stuff is no different, it was a story I had not read before. There is no romance. There’s not exactly a gang. The main character, Paul isn’t exactly having a huge dilemma. Rather, All The Right Stuff is an examination of the social contract, you know stuff you learned in Social Studies during the Enlightenment unit (I kind of want to trot my BS in social studies education out), thus making it stand out for me, even among other multicultural books.
Paul DuPree, the main character, has got his head on pretty straight despite having a drug-addict father. The summer his dad dies, he scores this pretty sweet job working in a Harlem soup kitchen and mentoring Keisha, a teen mother with mad basketball skills. What Paul didn’t anticipate was Elijah, the elderly man who owns the soup wanting to rap about deep stuff. Elijah educates Paul little by little about the political theory of the social contract. It’s a bit complex for Paul, but he finds himself wondering how a society functions and how to get to the top. This dude, Sly, makes an appearance and he’s one of those people who thinks the ends justify the means and you have to get yours without regard to the social contract. Y’all, this book is DEEP, or at least more philosophical than my normal fare. All The Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers made me think and ponder things I haven’t thought about since college. I love that.
Of all the Walter Dean Myers books I have read and reviewed, Paul is one of my favorite main characters, maybe tied with Robin from Sunrise Over Fallujah. He’s got a good heart. He has not done anything major to mess up his life. He’s earnest and spends his summer helping people instead of piddling around. Granted, he gets paid to help people, yet I think there’s some altruism there. To me, Paul felt real and not like a caricature. By this, I mean he did not feel like a stereotype or the token black kid. Instead, he seemed pretty realized as a character, although perhaps I would have liked some more grief from him, after all his dad does die right in the very beginning of All The Right Stuff.
The social contract, a political theory that is kind of a big deal if you are studying Enlightenment and post-enlightment political thought is throughly examined in a real world context. I love that. If I was to put my teacher hat on, I would say this is a book you hand to kids when teaching Civics or during the Enlightenment unit in global studies. The thing with SOME, not all, teens is that if there’s no real world application to their education they don’t care. And I don’t want to generalize all students, just what my experience has been both as a student and as an educator. I think All The Right Stuff is perfect for getting some teenagers interested in the lesson. Paul is a cool kid, he’s not awkward or weird or a gangbanger. Elijah is an incredibly smart old man. And Sly, provides a pretty strong counterpoint and critical thought.
Walter Dean Myers has a writing style that I find to be very accessible. He’s appealing to struggling readers for a reason. I think that maybe when some teens read his books, they don’t feel alienated, and so he’s able to introduce concepts like political theory in a fairly gentle way. Plus, the chapters are generally short leading to a brisk pace. Maybe some of the dialogue occasionally feels inauthentic, but I felt while reading this that it was few and far between.
Honestly, I probably sound like the biggest Walter Dean Myers fangirl right now, and I am okay with that. While I don’t love all his books, I think they provide value. I think there is value in people of color being able to tell their own stories, and like Walter Dean Myers telling a different story every single time. I do wish that more authors of color were able to achieve the same level of commercial success as Myers, but that is a different rant for a different day. Friends, if you want to freshen up your political theory with a halfway decent storyline, check out All The Right Stuff, and be sure to brew up some soup while you’re at it, trust me, you’ll be craving some.
Disclosure: Received for review
Other reviews of All The Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers:
Forever Young Adult – “HOLY JEEZ, ELIJAH’S SOUP EMPORIUM, I WANT TO GO TO YOU”
Melissa’s Midnight Musings – “I could really relate to the story in it’s entirety. Not just with the characters, but with the themes and lessons as well.”
Other Books By Walter Dean Myers: