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Black Boogiemen

Black Boogiemen - Tallis Piaget

Change ... or the black boogiemen will get you.
Originally posted on my blog, Guiltless Reading.

The book in one sentence: A man strikes out to change black America.

My two cents: Everyday, people desire change. Many don't do anything about it, content to let others take on the burden. Most of us do what we can, in very small ways, to make a difference in their own spheres. Then there is that rare and often charismatic person who is able to instigate long-lasting, radical change. This very premise of the book is what initially drew me to it.

The prologue sets us up to imagine an alternate reality in the not-so-distant future, an America where rich white families are courting a dominantly black inner school city school for a spot in the prestigious school. Impossible? The author proposes this to be a prophecy rather than fiction; this story shows us how one man sets out to do just that.

Trenton Branch is a successful black man. He has a beautiful family, holds a prestigious job as a scientist, and lives in the wealthy suburbs. He has escaped his poor beginnings and the bleak fate of many of his contemporaries. But his cushy life takes a tragic turn. A righteous rage is awakened in him and he goes on a rampage to effect change, vowing that a tragedy like his would never happen again.

Branch lays out his plans -- a grand and highly systematic plan -- of cleaning up the inner city of Missouri. With a handful of men, he starts a revolution. People tired of their circumstances and hungry for change, rally behind him and there is a huge groundswell of support.

But there is a dark and sinister side to this change. Does the end justify the means? Does change always have to come at such a high price? Is this the workings of a man gone mad? What has compelled people to buy into the madness? Will this utopia last? You'll want to find out -- I could not put it down once I started!

***
Piaget talks as an insider, as one who has experienced and lived it, giving this book an authentic and credible voice. He attacks the problems that plague black America -- poverty, crime, teen pregnancy, drug addiction. He worries about lack of respect for elders. On a deeper level, he pinpoints how the lack of self-respect felt by the black for their own has only perpetuated the stereotypes many have of the black community at large.

This book is meant to shock. I think the reason it shocked -- and even scared me -- is that many of the horrors are extremely realistic and are actually happening in our streets today. There are many incidences of brutality and violence very graphically described; and the depiction of the effects of drug addiction and ultimately withdrawal are very real. The prescription for "cleaning house" reads like something out of a horror movie or more aptly referenced in the book -- out of the Holocaust.

Piaget's passion and hope for change is obvious, as he builds his case for effecting change through his main character's mindset as he outlines his grand plan for change. This author definitely has an agenda: he wants to shock us out of our comfortable lives, look around us, look within ourselves, and think about how to help in making change happen. (He talks a little more about this in his guest post My Kim Kardashian Epiphany)

I found Piaget's focus on changing the educational system with some very concrete ideas, an interesting and compelling proposition.

Unexpectedly, there was also a funny moments in this book. How about getting people to change the current fad of sagging pants? Or references to popular celebrities (there's a Wizard Johnson in the book)? Thank goodness for some levity in an otherwise grim book.

***
Uh-ohs:
This book would benefit from a good editor. At the least, I kept running into typos that just grated on my nerves. For example: Yet their attention was held far more easily with Deak's flare. (p. 215). Flare - flair. Neigh - NAY! It was a distraction from the story line!

More seriously, the language is extremely uneven throughout. In many sections it reads like it were out of a textbook with its very academic language. For example, the beginning with the slew of statistics which spans several pages, the use of technical terms like "recidivism rate," or simply unusual and unnecessary use of frilly words like "He pulled out the tiny flashlight and actuated the tiny instrument" (p. 194). (Come on, have you ever actuated a flashlight?)

Then suddenly it turns into crude street slang -- bruh, mercked, liberal use of the f word, the n word, among others. This may have been intentional to bring some shock value and a realism to the dialogue. This is also very obviously written for the black community with its use of language, its many references to popular black culture and history and the many insider stories. But to one not from this community, I personally found this jarring juxtaposition very off putting, and I may not have picked up on the nuances of many of these subtle references. I am curious to hear what others have to say about this.

Verdict: Bold, provoking and controversial ... an unputdownable read about challenging and changing the state of black America. (Read with an open mind. This may offend some readers with its graphic language and violence).

A copy of this book was provided by PR Mentality in exchange for an honest review.

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The premise is extremely interesting, is extremely controversial ... and it actually scared me. But honestly, this book needed a good editor. Full review coming soon.