A book that has greatly affected me over the course of my life is Walter Dean Myer’s Fallen Angels Simply put, this book was a major influence over my thought process and morality ever since I read it.
My fascination with the work began with my introduction to it in seventh grade by my school librarian. My middle school had put in place an initiative to get more kids reading in the school, specifically targeting students who preferred the sports field to the classroom. Fitting the bill perfectly, my school librarian, who is coincidentally now an acquaintance of mine, decided that she would try to find some books that I might like. Trolling for hints, she quickly discovered that I didn’t read mostly due to the fact that the stories we covered in class were quite droll, and largely unappealing. Knowing that I had a particular preoccupation with physicality in sports like football, lacrosse, and others, she gave me books about those topics. And they were boring. Then she gave me books about the men who played them. And they were, mostly, boring. During the final week of school before Christmas break however, she pulled me aside and informed me that rather than try a book about kids, sports, and the athletes they grew up to be, she was going to give a book about kids who loved the same things I do, but instead of growing up in a mostly privileged community and getting to go to college; they got drafted into the Vietnam War.
I was hooked. I occasionally took interest in Sports Illustrated articles, but this was a whole new level of fascination. I couldn’t put it down. Thirty pages, eighty pages, one hundred eighty pages, and just like that, I was done with it the following afternoon. Why so quick a read from the uninterested jock? Well the plain and simple of it was this; Myer’s had managed, through his excellent narrative and plot structuring skills, to place me perfectly in the shoes of a fictitious character who was incredibly similar to me, while at the same time, being a world apart in terms of differences between us. The book follows Richie Perry, a black teenager who just graduated from high school in Harlem. Richie and I are quite alike; he likes sports, music, his brother, and he has a particular distaste for schoolwork. Richie and I are quite different; he grew up a black kid in Harlem in the late sixties, and suffered the repercussions of that. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, went to private school, etc., and reaped the benefits. It is this dichotomy that makes the novel so interesting. Basically, I read it as if I hadn’t been born so fortunate, and this was what my experience of war would have been like.
And that made it certifiably terrifying. Myer’s crafted the novel perfectly, blending first person horror with the deep pondering of the events that followed. To summarize: death, drugs, and the questioning of right and wrong can make for the most psychologically torturous experience one can imagine. So terrifying, in fact, that merely reading it has burned imagined images of Vietnam into my mind.
Fallen Angels changed my ideas about life. I used to like violent video games; I don’t now. I used to be big fan of army movies for violence, and hated the talking; now it’s the opposite. Perhaps most importantly though, I have a greater respect for life and the human condition. I don’t think of Afghan or Iraqi insurgents simply as terrorists; I see them as kids my age who are just as terrified and opposed to their conflict resolution methods as the American kids my age that their fighting. The book made me love war literature, and I now dissect characters’ statements and relationships in far deeper detail, and I find that makes for a much more enjoyable literary experience across the board.