Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis
Despite my best effort (ok, maybe not my best effort :), another family vacation has interrupted my development of The Age of _______? But I am back home now, refreshed from seeing various sights on the East Coast (for those of you who haven't been to Quebec City or Acadia National Park, I strongly recommend them). And I have several books to write about.
The first one is The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis, one of ten books that recieved the ALA's Alex Award this year as a recommended adult book for teen readers.
According to my wife, this book should definitely jump to the top of my "best of" list, since she claims I laughed out loud seemingly every 20 pages or so. And, indeed, this is one of my favorite books for young adults, perhaps my favorite book in the collection I have read so far for this project. The Blind Side has a terrific story, with some remarkable, true-to-life (its nonfiction) characters. If you like football, or want to know what could be behind the Michael Vick story, or simply like great survival tales, go out and get this book.
At the center (actually, left tackle) of The Blind Side is Michael Oher, a young African American teen living in inner city Memphis, Tennessee. Michael is delivered one day to Briarcrest Christian School (out in the white suburbs) by a man named "Big Tony," who promised his mother on her deathbed that he would enroll his son in a Christian school. Struck by Michael's impressive size (he is 6'4" as a sophomore, and weighs 340 lbs.), athletic ability, and his precarious perch among the living, Big Tony decides to enroll "Big Mike" as well. And thus begins a remarkable story of survival by a young teen who has never spent any time among white people with money (most of his new school family falls into this category) much less time at school learning to read and write.
What makes this narrative so much fun to read--beyond the compelling story of Michael's life, and especially the people at Briarcrest who love him and help him to achieve--is the way Lewis weaves the story of Michael Oher with the story of how it has come to be that any young person with his size and speed might become a highly prized commodity in the world of college and professional football. Michael's story fits into a larger narrative about how football changed through the efforts of Bill Walsh and Lawrence Taylor, among several others. It also fits into a less explicitly developed narrative about how American culture has changed over the last 25 years or so. Reading The Blind Side provides lots of useful insight into our national obsession with sports and high performance, as well as the complexities of living a Christian life, navigating racial and class divides, and providing opportunity and challenge through education.
My guess is that many teen boys would enjoy this book very much, but in truth, the strongest character is a woman and I think this book is accessible to most any reader (it truly would make a great movie). If I were teaching 9th grade, I would pair it up with a young adult novel like Make Lemonade, which explores in greater depth, perhaps, the circumstances that Michael Oher encountered as a youth. Using these two books would engage both male and female readers, and spark a vigorous debate about the impacts of poverty and a lack of education, as well as what our society needs to do to create stronger relationships among members of diverse communities.
This video here is not about football, but it is about the sort of challenges that Michael Oher faced in making his way through Briarcrest and on to the University of Mississippi. It is a tad long and starts slow, bit give it time--it is well worth your attention.