Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Book Review: The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

I first heard about this book on NPR, and here's what I heard: Wes Moore is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, and he's abroad studying at Oxford on the Rhodes Scholarship before starting his internship in Condoleeza Rice's office, when his Mom calls and tells him a weird thing: the police in Baltimore (his home town) are looking for a guy his age, with his name, from his neighborhood, for murdering a police officer. Wow. I think if I were Wes Moore, I'd look up the other Wes Moore when I got home too. But unlike most people, our Wes Moore went on to write to him repeatedly, visit him for years in prison, interview friends and family, and finally write this compelling and ultimately heartbreaking book.

Each chapter starts off with a conversation in prison, which leads to a story in each boy's life at the same time, that shaped the men they became. Contrary to what you might be thinking, the author Wes Moore was not an overachiever from an early age, and he pretty easily could have ended up in the same shoes as the felon Wes Moore. But what he so ably points out the true tragedy is, that the felon Wes Moore's life could have worked out and he could have been on the outside leading a productive life just as easily. This is a story about the inner city, poverty, and fortune both good and bad.

While in the end it came down to choices they each had, it seemed to me like the biggest difference was in their mothers. The author's mother was also a single Mom after Wes's father died, but she was educated and older and established when she had her children. Whereas the "other" Wes's mother was a teenager when she had her first child, never married either son's fathers, and never finished college. Because her circumstances were tougher, she wasn't as able to keep on her son and really win the day with persistence. Or perhaps it is the exceptional doggedness of the author's mother that made the difference as opposed to the struggles of the other mother, but either way in the end, it is a story of how even in the most blighted neighborhoods of America, there can be hope if only there are programs and people who believe in the kids. But sadly, most stories don't end up that way, and the other Wes Moore's story is way too common.

I was worried the two Wes Moores would be confusing but it wasn't. For one thing, the author tells his own story in first person which helps immensely. Both stories are fluidly told with an openness and honesty that is heartbreaking. He doesn't get bogged down in the details and keeps the cast of characters relatively small. It's amazing how this book can be both inspiring, and yet also despairing. I guess in the end frustrating would be the best word to describe the situation he illuminated here.


B said...

Wow this sounds really really great. It's going on my TBR list now.

Jenny said...

I've been wondering how this one was after seeing him on Oprah. Thanks for the review... I want to read this one!!

Jeane said...

It seems like such a strange coincidence the other guy had the exact same name. Did his mother wonder it was him, at first? were they related at all, however far back? the book sounds really intriguing.

Jenners said...

This sounds really intriguing! It is going on my wish list. Thanks!