Received: In the library
Rating: 4.0/5.0 stars
Summary: In 1863, fifteen-year-old Claire, the daughter of an Irish mother and a black father, faces ugly truths and great danger when Irish immigrants, enraged by the Civil War and a federal draft, lash out against blacks and wealthy "swells" of New York City.
Riot is the first book I have read by Walter Dean Myers, which is kind of surprising since he is a "legend" in the teen fiction world. I chose Riot because, after reading the summary in the book jacket, I realized I had never heard of this major riot that took place in New York City during the Civil War. Aside from that, I also found the text of the book interesting in that it is written like a movie script. I thought if I liked the book, it would be one I could recommend to readers looking for a different type of writing style in a book. I also think writing this book using this format allowed me to better visualize what was happening throughout the story. This point could be helpful for visual learners/readers.
Walter Dean Myers' writing and storytelling in Riot takes a good look at race relations and class. As a teenager, Claire never thought much of the fact that she is racially mixed, looking more white than black. She just sees herself as a person. Yet, when one of the other characters, who seems jealous of the way the guy she likes looks at Claire, finds out that Claire is partially black, she acts like Claire is suddenly a horrible person. I won't give too much of the story away, but what goes around comes around. It was heartbreaking to me when this incident occurred because at that point Claire questioned everything about herself and kind of lost her innocence.
As for class, I was shocked to think that the wealthy could pay $300 to get out of having to serve in the military, while those less fortunate financially had no choice. The Irish caused the riot because they didn't want to fight in a war to free slaves who they thought, in turn, would come to the north and take all of the jobs from them. Also, they didn't think it was fair that the wealthy could pay money and get out of having to serve. Exploring this issue in Riot was a good way to show that the racism wasn't just based off the color of people's skin....it had to do with getting and maintaining jobs and a lifestyle, not saying that makes racism good in any way.
Overall, I enjoyed the story that was told within the pages of Riot and for me, it was a very quick, enjoyable read. The author's note at the end of the book states: "It was the bloodiest civil disturbance in American history. Four terrible days in July of 1863 that would leave hundreds dead and injured and forever change the face of New York City." I learned about a piece of history I knew nothing about and that I haven't seen written in other historical fiction books. Also, I was able to connect to the characters. I would easily recommend Riot to students that enjoy historical fiction as well as those that want a suspenseful, action filled book.