Title: Riot
Author: Walter Dean Myers
ISBN: 9781606840009
Pages: 164 pages
Publisher/Date: Egmont, c2009.

MAEVE: They were singing about going to Dublin and marching as gay as you please all the way down Mercer Street. And every time they came to the end of a line with a “Whack follol de rah” they would break out a window!
CLAIRE: That’s terrible. Why would anyone want to do that?
MAEVE: Well, it’s the Irish against the swells and the Coloreds. They’ve been pushing us around too long, they have. You can’t walk down the sidewalk without a swell pushing you off into the street or one of the Coloreds taking your jobs. I hear they have them by the hundreds in Jersey City just waiting to rush over to New York at the drop of a hat.
You won’t be able to find a scrap of work that they won’t do for half the money. That’s how the Coloreds are. They’ll work for nothing until they chase us out and we’ll be the beggars and street sweepers. It’s in the Bible! (25-26)

There are riots happening in New York City during the hot July of 1863. With the Civil War raging, President Lincoln instituted a draft, which the rich get out of participating in by paying $300. The Irish immigrants are upset about this because not only are they being forced to fight in a war, but they’re fighting to free slaves who will inevitablely move up north and take their jobs for less money. Tensions mount, and stuck in the middle is fifteen-year-old Claire, born to an Irish mother and a black father. She sympathizes with both sides, but her pale appearance saves her from the persecution that most blacks are facing. Until, that is, someone finds out about her mixed race background. Walter Dean Myers tells the tale of the Riot in a screenplay format, providing stage directions and descriptions about the violence that occurred.

Walter Dean Myers chose an interesting presentation of the story, opting for a screenplay format rather than placing the readers squarely in the middle of the action with a narrative format. It’s an interesting concept, and I can only speculate it was intended to make the readers feel removed from the action, much like Claire feels in the beginning. She can’t get involved, because she doesn’t know where she’s supposed to get involved; with the Irish or the African Americans. The format and length makes for a very fast read, which might encourage reluctant readers to gain exposure to the author. An automatic reaction is to use this book as a reader’s theatre choice, being ready made for adaptation, but it can not be used as is due to camera direction which reads more like a screenplay for a movie.

The characters seem well developed, although the appearance of Walt Whitman seems to slow down the plot, and drive home the point that you have to choose your own path. The multiple point of views give different perspectives from each angle, whether they are Irish or black, police or rioters, soldiers or citizens. Plus, the events are not well known, and the timeline and author’s note provide a good starting point for reference and research for curious readers.

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