Sunday, November 7, 2021

Book Review: 'The Freedom Writers Diary' by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell

✰✰✰✰½ When a rookie English teacher, Erin Gruwell, is faced with 150 Freshmen remedial students, it's time to sink or swim. Looking around her classroom on the first day, she is struck by the way they segregate themselves into groups based on race: Black, Asian, and Latino, with a lone Caucasian student lost in the crowd.

Gruwell, comes up with an idea to get the kids to write by having each keep a journal. They can write anything they want with no repercussions, and write, they do. Gruwell soon realizes that for many of these kids, just surviving the streets is an accomplishment. By listening carefully and creating interactive activities, Gruwell encourages the students to see how similar they are to one another rather than focusing on differences. And for the first time, many of these kids find an adult who is actually taking an interest in them.

As the students move through grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, something wonderful happens. They begin to believe there's more out there than just gang fights and the streets. They learn about respect and begin to have dreams. Together, they compiled this book, which covers a wide range of social issues. Together, they garnered world-wide attention and demonstrated tolerance. Together, they did what most adults thought they couldn't: graduate and go to college.

For a dose of inspiration, pick up this book and read what can happen with a little nurturing and respect. Since this is the 20th anniversary edition, it also includes both tenth-anniversary and twentieth-anniversary entries.

The Bottom Line: This is a story about transformation and coming of age during a time when riots in L.A. were common. Highly recommended reading for high school and college programs. Also, recommended reading for parents and educators. Even though this was written over twenty years ago, many of the topics are still relevant today, maybe even more so.

Book Club Notes: This was one of the titles we did not have the opportunity to discuss last year as we were learning how to Zoom. Now we are finally catching up. After a year of students learning remotely, it was interesting to read about the experiences these students had back in the 1990s. We discussed how different it is to learn in-person vs. remotely. We also discussed how the topics from more than twenty years ago are still hot button topics now.

About half of our group also watched the film. We were impressed that many of the key roles were played by teens with no formal training in acting. The combination of well-known celebrities with unknown actors and real Holocaust survivors made the film more authentic. Overall, this was an enjoyable transformation film. 

On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the highest, we rated the book an average of 4.8, and the movie received 4.6. We appreciated the honesty of everyone as they told their compelling stories. Highly recommended for teens, teachers, aspiring teachers, and parents. [NOTE: This book contains some incidents which may be troubling for sensitive readers.] 

To help guide your book discussion, you can check out The Freedom Writers: Express Yourself Discussion Guide here. Also, check out how the movie differs from the book here.

Details: The Freedom Writers Diary (20th anniversary edition): How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell. Paperback published by Broadway Books in 2019. 448 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-49422-9 

No comments: