As I read through Bad Boy: A Memoir, I found that the story of young Walter elicited mixed emotions in me as a reader. Walter describes himself as a young boy who, despite some obvious set backs including difficulties with his speech, living in poverty, and struggling to understand the dynamics of racism and segregation in American society at the time, was also lucky enough to have parents who loved him, be placed in the Special Progress class in school, and was able to turn to his reading, writing, and athletic talents into outlets for his troubles. Since Walter as a narrator and the reader are able to reflect on his past and see that he had the potential to go to college and use his intelligence to move outside of the jobs in the garments district he talks about not wanting to take, it is extremely difficult to read about him wasting his opportunities, as he mentions his teachers tell him he is doing, with his continued misbehavior and violence. As an adult reader, I wondered what Dean Myers’ intended message to his young audience was throughout the disheartening novel; most significantly what was he indicating in the end?
My first reaction was to criticize Dean Myers’ honesty. In a way, all of straying from the path adults encourage adolescents to follow seemed disconcerting. A man who became a successful author admitting he had not done all the things children and adolescents are expected to do would imply that others also don’t need to do what they are told. Dean Myers pointed out several times that he was picking up on certain values about fairness and honesty in school and church and the more he came to understand that those things didn’t exist all the time in the real world, his ideas of what his future would be fell apart. For the narrator of this memoir not to be truthful about what his own experiences as a youth had been would be a cop-out for his own readers. In writing his personal story, Dean Myers, doesn’t encourage misbehavior, he builds a tale for today’s youth about how growing up can be both a struggle and a learning process. Continue reading