Rummanah Aasi
  I had originally planned on reading America by E.R. Frank for this year's Banned Books Week. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to it on time, but I left it in my to be read soon pile and I'm glad that I did. America reminded me of stories and people that I knew while growing up in the inner city of Chicago. Kids who lost their innocence too quickly and had to become grown ups in order to survive. Kids who were lost, but instead of being found, found their place in jail or worse.

Description: America is a runaway boy who is being treated at Ridgeway, a New York hospital that specializes in rehab and mental health. After many years at the hospital, America finds himself opening up to one of the doctors on staff and revealing things about himself that he had always vowed to keep secret.

Review: America is a gritty, raw, real, and emotionally heartbreaking story. The story begins with a teenage America in a treatment facility after a failed suicide attempt. It alternates between the present mostly his therapy sessions with Dr. B. and the past. At first, the shift from present to past confused me mainly because the flashbacks were at bit unclear in the prologue. It finally cleared up as the chapters were clearly labeled "Then" and "Now".
    Born to a crack addict mother, America was raised by kindly Mrs. Harper, the nanny of a rich white foster family who gave him up due to his mixed race. The weekend before he starts kindergarten, he visits his birth mother in New York City, who abandons him in a seedy apartment with his two younger stepbrothers. He soon learns how to curse, steal, and be "bad" in order to avoid the wrath of his brothers and to prove his worth. One of the most heartbreaking scenes from America shows America desperately trying to find a phone to contact Mrs. Harper and writing her phone number everywhere so that he won't forget it.
   When the police find him years later and return him to Mrs. Harper, he's behind in school, swears constantly and has internalized the belief that he's bad. America is not a perfect character as he constantly reminds himself and the reader, but we can see that he is intelligent, artistic, and sweet.
 The novel is composed of America's gradual progress through therapy and it is very well done. America doesn't open up right away, but do to Mr. B's persistence and genuine concern for his patient he eventually does. The obstacles that he faced in his life are insurmountable, but unfortunately not far from what we read or see daily in our newspapers. Frank's ability to capture so much emotion in America's stream of consciousness and dreams makes this book remarkable and memorable. Like many gritty novels such as Push by Sapphire or any of Ellen Hopkins's works, there is no happy ending, but a long road of recovery. America is the story of forgiveness both of oneself and of others. . For example, when America works up the courage to visit Mrs. Harper in the nursing home, her walls are covered with angels she painted to look like him. A powerful, cathartic story told with brutal honesty and an unflinching look of how children get lost in the system that was created in order to protect them. It is also one of forgiveness both of oneself and of others.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the book. Many scenes of underage drinking and drug use. There are also allusions to sexual abuse. I would recommend this book for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Push by Sapphire, Impulse by Ellen Hopkins, Identity by Ellen Hopkins, or Wrecked by E.R. Frank, Jude by Kate Morgenroth
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