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Harlem Summer

by Walter Dean Myers

Published by Scholastic Press, 2007
165 pages
ISBN: 043936843X

Ages 12-15

Mark is trying to figure out what he might do with his life in this novel about an African American teen set in Harlem during the 1920s. He dreams of being a famous sax player, but appears to be more enamored with the idea of musical glory than the concept of regular practice. Over the course of one summer, he has some fascinating, and sometimes frightening, encounters with a wide range of Harlem’s famous and infamous residents. He helps Fats Waller transport bootleg whiskey, and runs into Langston Hughes in the office of The Crisis magazine, where Mark has an errand job. (While a little bewildered by the purpose of The Crisis and the intellectuals and artists it attracts, Mark likes Langston, and asks the poet for advice. Following his recommendation to rewrite other people’s poems to get a feeling for the art, Mark pens “The Negro Looks at Livers” -- his own hysterical take on Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Looks at Rivers.”) When the bootleg whiskey Mark was helping Fats Waller unload disappears, gangsters take a great interest in Mark, whose various schemes for recovering the money the gangsters say they are owed don’t pan out. Mark is a real kid – bright but not brilliant or precocious, and not particularly motivated either – although he realizes he IS highly motivated to save his own skin. By summer’s end, Mark is living less on the power of pipe dreams and unrealistic fantasies, and more in the real world. Walter Dean Myers has written a winning story full of warm, memorable characters and funny events. A section at the book’s end offers photographs and brief descriptions of the real people and places glimpsed in this work of fiction. (MVL) ©2007 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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