Freedom Writers (2007)

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Freedom Writers was released in 2007, starring Hilary Swank. It is a drama based on the nonfiction book, The Freedom Writers Diary, and is based upon a true story.

The book and the movie tell the story of a remarkable teacher and group of kids from Woodrow Wilson Classical High School, in California. At the time of the book’s writing, this was one of the roughest schools in the country, filled with gangs, violence and a failing academic record.

Hilary Swank portrays teacher Erin Gruwell, a novice teacher who reshaped the kids in her classroom, helping them catch up academically and exposing them to the wider world. She worked two part time jobs to pay for opportunities and teaching resources – including English books – that were not funded by the school.

Here is the trailer.

I have seen this movie several times, but was inspired to re-watch it after listening to the book The Hate U Give.

The themes of racial tension, gang violence, education and growing up in rough neighbourhoods are similar.

The movie is entertaining and inspiring. There is violence, which flows well with the storyline and themes without becoming graphic. Although the subject matter isn’t happy, it also brought back a slight sense of nostalgia for the 90s.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching this film, and now I am am more interested in the Freedom Writers today. I want to google and see if any of them became activists or educators. I am also going to try to find a copy of their book to read.

Edit: Here is a link to 2017 news article, “where are they now”.

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The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

—                         —                         —

The Hate U Give. This is a revolutionary book.

I know I’m late to the party. Everyone and their mother has already read this book. Or seen the film.

It is truly amazing though. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Shocking though it is, this is the debut novel for author Angie Thomas. She has recently released another, On The Come Up, that I will definitely be listening to as well.

The Hate U Give deals with racial relations, growing up poor and black, and the tensions between black communities and the police. It incorporates pop culture, humour and heartbreaking pain. This is definitely one book that you will want to read in some privacy, because if you are anything like me, it will have you ugly crying for sure.

The main character, Starr, is incredibly easy to relate to. Ms Thomas created an entire world of fictional characters interacting in a very realistic setting. Starr’s voice is clear throughout the narrative. I couldn’t put this audiobook down, draining my phone from 100% power to 4% multiple times.

Even if you are not a reader of young adult fiction, I hope you will give this title a try.

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Crow’s Row – a review

Crow’s Row, by Julie Hockley, is a coming of age story told from the perspective of its heroine, second year university student Emily Sheppard. The series takes its name from the first book, with the second called Scare Crow.

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Emily is living in the ghetto, near to where the older brother she idolized died several years earlier, and is completely cut off from any real emotional connection to friends, family or a significant other. Abandoned by her room-mates for the summer, she witnesses a murder in the cemetery during one of her daily runs, is kidnapped by said thugs, and taken to a remote farm out of state while they decide what to do with her.

Ultimately, this series is about Emily coming to understand the various connections she unknowingly has to her kidnappers and to the city she has moved to for school.

I found this series by googling for NA (new adult) books related to the bratva or mafia, and this came up. It isn’t exactly what I was looking for that day (deets below) but I read it anyway. It is still an excellent start by rookie author Hockley.

These books are a blend of the young adult and new adult categories in my opinion. The characters’ ages and some subject matter are certainly more appropriate for the new adult tag, but there is very little sex in the series, none of it explicit, which is far more commonly found in young adult novels. If you are starting to read up as a young person, or are just uncomfortable reading erotic scenes, this would be a great recommendation for you, certainly far safer than my usual review material.

During her months spent with her kidnappers, Emily gets to know them on a more personal level and the reader discovers that there is more going on than initially presented. Although these men – and woman – are certainly very dangerous people, you don’t see much of that side of them, because they treat Emily well after her initial kidnapping, and everything is written in her perspective.

My main criticism of these books draws from this. Cameron, the leader of this motley crew, turns out to be a Big Bad, the sole leader of an organized crime syndicate for the North Eastern United States, presiding over a council comprised of mafia types, outlaw bikers, gangs, etc.

I had two problems with this: firstly, as I stated, we get Emily’s perspective and even though she is scared of him at times, they are sweet on each other and have a longer connection than she realizes. Plus, he is a dog lover. When the reader only gets glimpses of his darker side, it is hard to imagine him being powerful enough or dark enough to control all those other criminal groups. Secondly, he wasn’t born into this life – he made his own way from highschool drug dealer up – and late twenties seems way too young to be in that powerful of a position, able to strong-arm the mafia and established 1% biker clubs into submission.

I hope that Hockley adds a lot darker material into the third novel, to validate her characters’ claims. So far the violence is restrained to kidnapping (and treating their “guest” very well) and murder (of very bad dudes who were trying to kill our protagonists). I need Spider et al (and maybe even Emily) to do some seriously evil shit in the next book because right now, it feels like Hockley is on the edge, trying to write R-rated characters in a PG-13 novel.

Oddly enough, the main criticism I saw online of this book was that Emily fell in love with Cameron. But I had no trouble with that plot-line at all. She does fall for the guy responsible for her kidnapping true, but other than that initial confrontation, Cameron does nothing at all to hurt her and actually protects her. There isn’t any Stockholm Syndrome at play here. It doesn’t take long for Emily to decide that the farm isn’t a bad place to stay, and she doesn’t seem particularly anxious to leave. In fact, I think she would have quite happily stayed forever if she wasn’t nervous about why there were so many armed guards protecting the property. (Minor spoilers ahead)

Once she realizes that Cameron and her brother had been good friends and business partners, she wants to get as close as possible to the group and find out what she can. She never believed the reports of how her brother Bill died via an overdose and has been seeking a connection to him since his death six years previously. After realizing that Cameron has been looking out for her from afar for so long, in honour of Bill, the connection between them just deepens.

I can’t speak too much to the plot-line in the sequel without completing spoiling the ending of the first, but I highly encourage anyone here to keep reading.

After reading Crow’s Row, pick up Scare Crow, and eventually the untitled third book which has already been announced.

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