Book Review: Forged By Fire

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The second book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy, Forged by Fire, is not as emotionally driven as the first book, but the way the story is told, allows for different emotions, other than grief to surface. I didn’t get as emotional as I did in the first book, but it does drum up emotions in various areas. For me, it was mostly towards the end.
*Summary: When his loving aunt dies, Gerald suddenly is thrust into a new home filled with anger and abuse. A brutal stepfather with a flaming temper and an evil secret makes Gerald miserable, and the only light in his grim life is Angel, his younger stepsister. Gerald and Angel grow close as he strives to protect there from Jordan, his abusive stepfather, and from their substance-addicted mother. But Gerald learns, painfully, that his past can’t be extinguished, and that he must be strong enough to face Jordan in a final confrontation, once and for all…
Pros:
Characters. The main character is Gerald  and it’s mostly his story. We see the world through his eyes, from when he’s a child to him being a seventeen year old young man. His young stepsister Angel can be considered the second leading character as well. Outside of them, there are three supporting characters.
  • Gerald Nickelby. When we first meet Gerald he’s a three year old and we’re introduced right away to his story. He lives with his single mother, Monique who is a drug addict and neglectful. His mother leaves him alone one night and he accidentally sets fire to the apartment, she doesn’t return until after he’s in the hospital. Gerald ends up living with his Aunt Queen, who raises him till he’s 9. With Aunt Queen, he learns how to live his life and be a child without worrying when his mother will return. When his mother reenters his life, he meets Angel, his younger sister and he immediately takes to her. He’s protective of her, and teaches her how to be brave. Unfortunately, Aunt Queen dies and Gerald has to live with his mother and her new husband and at such a young age, Gerald has to mature. He’s physically abused by Jordan but he remains strong for himself and mostly for Angel. Throughout the novel, even after Jordan is jailed and returns… Gerald remains strong for his family even if he feels like ehe can’t protect the women in his life. It’s easy to tell, even later in the novel, when he’s a teenager, that he still yearns for the love of his mother.
  • Angel Sparks. She starts off as a seven year old, who is physically and sexually abused by Jordan making her a shy and meek child. When she meets Gerald, she immediately takes to him and when he moves in with them, she views him as her protector. As she gets older, she has a passion for dance and is described to be very graceful and pretty. When Jordan comes back into their lives, she’s obviously afraid but tries to be hopeful, that he truly loves their mother, that he’s changed and he just wants to be in the family.
  • Jordan Sparks. Very much the villain of the story, he sparks fear into his entire family. He’s described as a big man and he physically abuses his family as well as sexually abusing Angel. His character is very much one dimensional as nothing changes with him even if he pretends to be. He’s meant to be scary, imposing and intimidating.
  • Monique Sparks. Gerald and Angel’s mother, she starts off being neglectful to Gerald. She is drug addict and neglectful as she leaves him home alone often. When he’s injured in the fire, she’s jailed. Later she returns with the hopes of him living with her now that she’s changed and for the most part, it does seem like she’s doing much better than before. At first, she refuses to acknowledge Jordan’s abusive nature and is very upset when the kids manage to get him arrested and jailed. But without him, they all do much better.
The Story. A connecting theme in these novels is “self discovery”, Gerald’s story leads him into becoming brave and a man. Something he wasn’t always. Unfortunately, he has to deal with a lot of hardships before being able to get to that part. It’s a very simple story but the journey must be experienced in order to feel relief in the end. The story at it’s basis is a good one, but I’ll talk about this more below.
The Title. I didn’t mention this with Tears of a Tiger but the title of this novel, is pretty clever. Fire is a big part of the story. It’s what takes Gerald away from Monique in the beginning and it’s what brings him closer to her in the end. According to dictionary.com, “forged” means: to form by heating and hammering; beat into shape which is the better definition for this particular story. Gerald, at a young age is forged by the first fire from a scared and neglected child into a determined and loved little boy which leads into who he becomes as a young man. He’s not necessarily exposed to fire again literally, but instead figuratively, as he goes “out of the frying pan and into the fire” while dealing with Jordan. His mother was enough in the beginning but Jordan is much worse. Later, when there’s another fire, Gerald this time, instead of being afraid must protect those he loves.
Cons:
Silly Dialogue. Like I said in my review for the first novel, I’m sure it has to do with the time period as well as the environment, but that doesn’t make it any less funny.
Too Short. I’m sure these books weren’t meant to be that long, as the third book is the longest in the trilogy but I think the depth of the characters and the story would have benefited if it was longer. Due to it being so short, while the story and characters are interesting, it would help the reader to relate get more emotionally attached to Gerald and Angel especially. Plus, there’s just so much going on, so much time passes in this short novel that it feels overcrowded.
Melodramatic and Shallow. Now, I think these books are very good for young readers, especially African American preteens and teenagers to read, and while the basic story is a good one, everything surrounding it can be a bit “extra” making the story “soap opera-ish.” It becomes “shallow” because it only scratches the surface of the problem and only allows us to get but so close to the characters. It might have been different if the story was told from Gerald’s point of view, or maybe even started with him being a nine year old, with him remembering how he got to that point… something else to help give some depth.
Character Development. I like the characters, I think they’re still pretty strong but they also falter in that there’s not enough development for them. It’s probably contradictory but what we’re given is some good skeletons, that could have benefited from more meat. This is why I think the story is suffers from being too short because there’s not enough time to really dig into these characters due to the amount of “stuff” going on.
Timing/Continuity/Consistency Issues. There are a few times where it’s really easy to get lost in when this is all happening.  Gerald starts out being a three year old, but when he first meets Angel, he’s nine and she’s in the first grade, then cut some years later and he’s seventeen and somewhere in there, it’s get a little confusing to what the ages are, how many years have passed, how long Jordan’s been in jail and what not. There are no real transitions for us to know the timing.
Overall, I still love this novel and I do think it is better than Tears of a Tiger, except I think that novel does character development a bit better as it does focus solely on Andy and fleshing him out through him and other characters whereas in Forged By Fire, we only know so much about Gerald’s personality, but we get a lot about what’s happening to him. A good character should move the plot forward instead of the plot happening to the character. Otherwise, they become uninteresting. But anyway, the book has interesting characters, the story at it is basis is interesting and relevant, the title is great foreshadowing for Gerald’s journey but at the same time it suffers from only scratching the surface, not giving the main character, especially, strong character development.  I recommend the book due to it’s nature and leading black male character.
Rating: 3.96 out of 5 stars.
*Summary is taken from back of novel.
Have you read Forged by Fire? What do you think of the novel? What is your favorite or the best emotionally driven novel you’ve read? Please respond in the comments below! Don’t forget to like this piece and follow!
Next Book Review: Darkness Before Dawn
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Book Review: Tears of a Tiger

 

Wow. I haven’t read this book since middle school and I cannot believe how much I love it and how much it affects me emotionally. Tears of a Tiger is the first book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy and it comes right out the gate with a bang and it’s unforgettable. It is also Sharon M. Draper’s debut novel.
*Summary: Andrew Jackson was driving the car that crashed one night after a game, killing Robert Washington, his best friend and the captain of the Hazelwood High Tigers. It was late, and they’d been drinking, and now, two months later, Andy can’t stop blaming himself. As he turns away from family, friends, and even his girlfriend, he finds he’s losing the most precious thing of all– his ability to face the future. 
Pros:
Characters. There isn’t a large cast of characters in this novel, as the novel itself is short, however you are able to get enough of them to understand their relationships with Andy to an extent.
  • Andrew “Andy” Jackson. He is the main protagonist of the novel, he’s seventeen and a basketball player. He is described by other characters to be lively, outgoing, a bit of class clown, charasmatic and he is absolutely devastated by the death of his best friend. He does a complete 180, until he manages to pull a mask on in front of everyone except the reader and his girlfriend Keisha. His character is so emotionally impactful that’s impossible not to feel for him.
  • Keisha Montgomery. She is Andy’s girlfriend and she is portrayed so strongly in this novel, she hasn’t been dating Andy long but she is so loyal to him, so supportive that even though she has a hard time dealing with his depression she remains because she cares for him and knows he needs her. It’s so prevalent in every conversation they have, in her diary entries and I do think she could possibly split readers’ feelings towards her. She was right in letting go because she couldn’t handle it anymore or she should have stayed with him because she was the only person who really saw him.
  • Andy’s Family. Andy’s father is pretty distant in his life and Andy often references that. His mother is a woman who seemed like she used to try and be supportive but she’s caught up in her own life that she often forgets her son. Lastly, Monty is the younger brother and their relationship is the strongest in the family. There is a great scene between the two that really shows the impact Andy has on his brother.
  • The other characters: Tyrone, Gerald, B.J, and Rhonda also have presences in the story. Tyrone and B.J were involved in the crash, they all tried to save Rob but failed and they were also affected but they found solace and peace in a relationship (Tyrone/Rhonda) and faith (B.J). Gerald was also a friend of theirs and he seems very similar to Andy, with a lot of his own problems at home but he deals with it in a different way than Andy which I think is a nice parallel especially as the second novel is Gerald’s story. The parallel is two young black boys who have dealt with tragedy take different paths in dealing with it. It’s quite amazing.
Writing Style. This novel is written so differently that it helps to enhance the story. Draper uses a plethora of ways to tell this story. There are diary entries from Keisha, clippings from the school paper, essays, poems, written letters, notes passed in class, and dialogue between characters. The most notable dialogue pieces are between Andy and his therapist and other characters. Each time a character writes something for class, or writes in a diary or a letter, the font style also changes to help individualize the characters so when the reader turns and sees the font, it’s possible to recognize who is “speaking” before their name is shown.
Emotional weight. Without spoiling, this book is so emotional and deals with real life emotions, especially for black teenagers. Each time Andy speaks to a person, another layer of his emotions is pushed aside for the reader to get closer and closer to him. As he speaks with his therapist, the readers get to understand him better, as the other characters write letters, or essays or talk about him in general, we get to see him through their eyes and we understand him more. There is a scene where Andy has a nightmare and that moment alone is powerful.
Timeless. Tears of a Tiger is one of those novels that the subject matter is timeless because people deal with death in various ways. The characters can be removed from this time period and placed in other ones, which is a big thing as the time frame is never actually stated. There are dates such as “November 9” etc but the year is never specified, which I’m sure was intentional. The book was published in 1994 and the language definitely can help date it as well as certain other things, no talk of cell phones etc but outside of those minor details, it’s easy to think this novel is set in present time.
Cons:
The use of different fonts. What? But you just said this was neat, which is it, don’t get me wrong. The problem I have is that since the font is different for everyone, the girls have this really curly “handwriting” that makes it hard to see at times. Normally, this book is published as a tiny one, which prevents the words from being larger anyway. I like the fact that they’re there, I just would have liked them to be a bit more legible or larger.
The Dialogue Bits. Not the dialogue itself but the way it’s set up. The use is definitely unique and when it first starts out it’s easy to follow, but once more and more people begin to talk and get involved, the reader can no longer really follow who is speaking. A name didn’t need to beside the dialogue like a script, but when more people spoke with each other, there could have been more cues to let us know who is speaking. Especially since we know their voices on their own, but together it’s harder to distinguish.
Emotional. What?? Hahaha. This is more of precaution and something I remember thinking the first time I read it, it’s soooo heavy. It’s soon emotional which is also one of the major strengths of the novel but it’s also a big weakness because it’s so sad, it’s so emotional that even though Andy constantly tells people he’s “fine” the readers know otherwise and it’s personally hard to see light at the end of the tunnel here.
The Language. There isn’t any profanity, at least nothing bad but I think this may also have to do with the location, which I know is in the north, not sure where, and the time period. This may seem like a contradicting con but now that I’m older, the way the characters spoke is definitely something I paid more attention to this time around. There are a few times in the novel where the characters are saying slang that is soooo dated that it’s almost amusing, and some of the stuff they say makes you wonder if Ms. Draper was really in the mindset of teenagers or was actually being an adult writing teenagers, which I think some adult authors have a time with, as well as being a woman writing for a teenage boy.
Overall, I absolutely adore this novel. Tears of a Tiger was Sharon M. Draper’s first book and I think it’s obvious due to it’s the only book in the trilogy written the way it is, with the unique style but the writing is the weakest. Andy is obviously the standout character in the novel, as it is about him, Keisha is a prominent character and helps push Andy along, though may not be in the way she wants. The characters are all interesting and it’s easy to see why the others involved in the accident were able to move on in a healthy manner. It’s easy for the readers to get invested in Andy’s wellbeing even if they cannot identity with the tragedy or even the hardships and confusion of being a young black male. The negatives are there, with the way the characters speak, the hard to read fonts for certain characters’ written pieces, the lack of distinguishing who is speaking in dialogue pieces and the heaviness of the story. It may become a bit too much for some readers and may hit the nail a bit too hard on the head as well as becoming “preachy” but all in all, this debut novel creates a world that is easy to relate to especially for black teenagers.
Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars.
*Summary is taken from back of novel.
Have you read Tears of a Tiger? What do you think of the novel? What is your favorite or the best emotionally driven novel you’ve read? Please respond in the comments below! Don’t forget to like this piece and follow!
Next Book Review: Forged by Fire

August Speciality: Sharon M. Draper

Hey!
It’s been a little while since I’ve posted but ya know, life is busy. Definitely trying to get back together so to jump back in, I have a few things planned. I’m going to see Nerve (2016) tomorrow so there will be a movie review, some creative writing posts for the Daily Post word prompts AND August is my favorite author Sharon M. Draper‘s birthday month.

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I first read her in middle school, I’m not sure which I read first, I think it was Romiette and Julio and I was in love with her writing ever since. She also inspired me to start writing creatively, to actually do it. Even to this day, I adore her young adult novels. I always recommend her to black teenagers when they come searching for books with protagonists that look like them in the library.
Most of the time they end up loving the books. I haven’t met anyone who has read them and didn’t like them. Maybe not all of them but the ones they’ve read, they’ve liked. My youngest sister wasn’t much of a reader but when I started working at the library I made sure she read. She was twelve, I started her off with Sharon M. Draper’s books and she loved them. Now she checks out at least 6 books at a time. So, once again, Ms. Draper has inspired.
So in honor of her, I’m going to spend this month, reading as many books written by her as I can and review them. There’s not going to be an order or anything unless it’s a series/trilogy or something then those will be read in order.
I look forward to my first “speciality” event. I hope everyone enjoys and stays tuned.