2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Don't Waste Your Time,
This review is from: The White Boy Shuffle: A Novel (Paperback)The White Boy Shuffle makes a statement about the power of one person to influence an entire society. It sends a message to its readers that a person's life can be significant or insignificant based on how proactive and dedicated the person is. The protagonist of Shuffle, Gunnar, is taken from a prosperous, white community into a poor, black community where gang violence is prevalent and differences are not tolerated. Ultimately, because of Gunnar's individuality, he is able to rise above society's racism and violence and become a voice for the community.
Gunnar rises out of the gang environment of Los Angeles and becomes a basketball-playing poet. His relatively white perspectives on life hold him back in his new, harsh community, and the bullies of the school victimize him, "Gang affiliation? I didn't even have any friends yet. My sisters and I had no idea how to navigate our way around this hardscrabble dystopia" (48). His place as a black male in West Los Angeles does not provide an environment where he is supposed to succeed, as shown by a harsh introduction to his new school, "Boy, you know if you find yourself having trouble getting to and from class, the school provides an escort service and you can be placed in protective custody" (61).Yet, he becomes the first of his neighborhood to go to college, and the first to have a chance at success. These various triumphs of Gunnar's allow him to gain influence in the black community. His speech at Boston University proclaiming that blacks do not truly believe in ending racism around the world if they are not willing to die, and the response of the black community to his message, show the extent of Gunnar's influence, " `What we need is some new leaders. Leaders who won't apostatize like cowards. Some [people] who are ready to die!' The crowd's response startled me. "You! You! You!' they chanted, pointing their fingers in the air, proclaiming me king of the blacks" (200). Because of his words about black martyrdom, many students, including Gunnar's best friend, kill themselves. Through giving Gunnar the power to control the life or death of his followers, Paul Beatty sends several messages to his readers about the power of the individual: anyone from anywhere can succeed at any time, adversity can be overcome, and one person's words or actions can affect other people. Beatty paints a picture of a young, black man discovering his black identity, and encouraging others to do the same.
This book was on my summer reading list, and if it were not for that, I would most likely not have read it. It was short and easy to read, but it sent a powerful message about society today and the roles that each individual plays. The writing was not particularly sophisticated, and the characters were three dimensional, except for a few minor characters. The plotline was believable, and the vivid descriptions of life in West Los Angeles show the hardships of those that live there, "I often marveled at the unique photosynthesis that allowed the fig, peach, and lemon trees to thrive in a dim climate where it often rained dead cats and dogs, rotted fish, and droplets of piss" (45). I did not enjoy this book to some degree because I have some personal disagreements with the message this book sends to its readers. Beatty suggests that encouraging people to do militant things to themselves, such as suicide, is what a black hero does. Beatty supports the idea that the racism of whites is what is holding the black community back, and that blacks have not done anything to continue racial problems. However, as shown by Barrack Obama's candidacy for president, our society is changing for the better, and racial equality is being realized without drastic measures, such as suicide and violence. As opposed to Beatty's view that blacks need to take matters into their own hands to solve racial problems, I believe that blacks and whites should work together to achieve racial equality. The appeal in this book lies in its humor, and watching Gunnar's character develop. If you are looking for a quick, thought-provoking read, and you want to read something easy, then this is the book for you.