Adolescent Literature: Tears of a Tiger

Andrew Jackson was not only the name of the seventh President of the United States, it was also the strong, universally accepted, name given to the young man, that is the main character of Tears of a Tiger.  

Andrew’s name is one of many topics that can be discussed about the book, Tears of a Tiger.  There are several indications of racial struggles throughout this book.  Andrew, Andy, and his father discuss his name near the end of the book.  Andrew’s father shares his own struggles with being labeled ‘black’ simply because of his birth name, Ezekiel Jeremiah Jackson.  He discusses that his name wasn’t white enough to be accepted by his white co-workers.  It wasn’t until he changed his name to his initials that he was able to go without ridicule in the corporate world.  When Andrew confronts his father about why he refuses to call him Andy like everyone else, he tells his son that he refused to call him Andy, because Andrew was a strong name that would be accepted by everyone.


The most obvious topic that students could discuss and explore is what they think should happen to someone that is responsible for the death of a friend.  When exploring this topic, the discussion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that brings Andrew to leave the class could also be explored as a unintentional punishment for Andrew.

Consequences for all of the characters could also be explored after reading this book.  Each character struggles with the loss of Robert either from their own experience or through the experiences of others.  For example, Keisha struggles with her own experience with the loss of Rob while she also does her best to help Andrew cope his experience.  B.J., Tyrone, and Gerald all try to help Andrew and each other deal with the loss of their friend. Though each of the characters tries to help each other, Andrew is still overwhelmed with grief and takes his own life.


This story would be great for any student to read because everyone can relate to grief.   Many students may be lucky enough not to experience the loss of a fellow student but most are not.  Reading this book brought me back to my sophomore year in high school when a drunk driving accident took four students from high schools in my community.  I could remember not having one of them at football practice.  I could see the pain in the faces of the faculty and students that knew him better than I.  I could remember writing my own letter to help me with my own struggles.  I think having the students write their own letter to Rob or Andrew would also be a great project.


Adolescent Literature: The First Part Last

Angela Johnson’s The First Part Last is an excellent book that could be used to help teach many life lessons.  Perhaps the most import lesson for students would be; no one should judge a book by its cover.  Not literally, just that on one should believe in the typical stereotyping that is rampant in the media and traditional social values.

Bobby, a sixteen-year-old black man, finds himself unable to indulge in the stereotypical activities basketball and more basketball, or crime and drugs as some may think.  Instead, he is forced into a full time job years beyond his adolescent maturity — being a father.  Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, had decided to give away their child because they themselves were children.  Then, Nia suffers complications and is in a permanent vegetative state.  Bobby elects to keep his newborn, Feather.  The traditional single parent family roles are reversed with Bobby becoming the primary caregiver.  Also, the family roles suggest that the girl’s parents should be more supportive and Bobby’s parents would be less supportive given that they were divorced.  However, just the opposite happens.  Nia’s parents do not wish to help Bobby while his own parents try there best to make their son into a man as he raises his daughter.


Aside from the assault on stereotyping, The First Part Last also holds another major lesson that all teens could learn from — the difficulty of raising a child.  Bobby struggles to stay awake during several of the scenes throughout the book.  He refers to the chores of raising Feather such as changing her moments after he had just gotten her clothes back on from changing her diaper.  He counts the time he can sleep knowing that it will take her a certain amount of time to digest her formula before she awakens wanting more.


I can picture my own students struggling with the scope of effort and time that it takes to raise a baby.  Most assume life is simple, that the instant gratification of an answer on Google will have a baby snoring in the blink of an eye.  I cannot wait to ask some of my students to consider this book.

I think this book would be excellent to pair with a study of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.  Students could explore the ideas of innocence to those of experience as presented in both the poetry and the book.

I also think it would be an excellent book for students to create a trailer such as the following.


Adolescent Literature: Crank

Crank is a fascinating story about a young lady, a junior in high school, that allows her own curiosity to get the better of her.  During a summer break spent at her father’s home, with little adult supervision, she allows herself to explore life as an alter ego transforming her from the innocence Kristina to the carefree Bree.  During this exploration. she discovers Meth and becomes hooked on the monster.  In her time walking with the monster, as she calls it, she becomes sexually active while remaining a virgin until she is raped.  After being raped, she assumed a relationship with another boy who offered to be a father to her unborn child.  A child Bree longed to be rid of until Kristina swore she felt move inside of her.


This story is a great story that calls attention to the all too common problem of teen drug addiction, sex, and relationships in general.  While reading this book, I would often think about my own wayward students and how I hoped they would not be dancing with the monster like Bree.  Sadly, even in the seventh and eighth grade I know there are girls that struggle with the same issues as Kristina/Bree.

Ultimately, I doubt I could convince my administration to allow me to use this book for a required reading.  This book has been banned in several locations due to its subject matter, which to me says READ ME.  Most don’t agree though.  Small towns have a way of staying  small-minded at times which is why I was surprised to borrow this book from a fellow teacher.  It was one found deep in the corner of the school’s library where undoubtedly a parental consent form proceeds it from the shelf to the student’s hand.  It is very likely that in the years on that shelf it has only been gleamed by a few pairs of eyes.  That makes me sad.  I would love to talk to my students about these controversial issues and help them make good choices for their own life.  If only one student would get the slightest idea about how easy addiction to acquire and how devastating it can be, wouldn’t that be worth every parent call to complain about the subject.

I think Hopkins does a wonderful job of conveying why I feel teens should read this book.