WON'T KNOW TILL I GET THERE
Walter Dean Myers
Like The Young Landlords who found themselves responsible to the diverse elderly tenants of a rundown tenement, Myers' latest group of wholesome early teenagers spends a summer helping out at a neighborhood old-people's home. This time, the service is a sentence imposed by a juvenile court judge after narrator Steve (the book is his journal) is caught spray-painting a fictitious gang name on a subway car. (The other three sentenced with him were on hand, and eager abettors.) Steve has perpetrated this uncharacteristic, spur-of-the-moment "vandalism" to impress his new trial brother, Earl, a 13-year-old offender (armed robbery at eleven, for starters) whom Steve's parents have virtuously decided to adopt. And so the story chronicles both Steve and Earl's bumpy progress toward becoming brothers--while Steve's parents learn that noble gestures are not that easily rewarded--and the four kids' growing rapport with, and respect for, the old people, who are hostile at first and prickly about being thought helpless. They also insist on being called "seniors": "If I called you 'colored' instead of 'black' does that make a difference to you? You claim the right to define yourself in your own terms. Well we claim the same right." At the home, there are several such mini-lectures from the seniors; a couple of astutely staged and motivated fights among the kids; and a great united effort to earn money to keep the home in operation. (It fails, alas, because--a typical Myers message--the city welfare bureaucracy punishes initiative.) And meanwhile, back at their own home, there's a funny scene when Steve and Earl try to cook an octopus; some offstage soul-searching by the parents, who aren't sure about keeping Earl; and a sentimental heart-tugger at the end when Earl officially joins the family. Another of Myers' winning, medium-cool raps in the service of good old-fashioned values.