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Review of "You Hear Me"

By Betsy Franco (editor)
Candlewick Press, 2001
Review by Liz Bass on Apr 6th 2002
You Hear Me"What could have been running through their minds?," we ask about those September 11 hijackers. "Who were they, anyway?," we wonder. Well, one way to describe them is this: they were young men.

It would be easy to say that the young male writers featured in You Hear Me? are not hijackers, nor could they ever be. But in a world turned on its ear by the rash actions of youthful males, we are beyond saying "never" when it comes to predicting what any of them will or will not do. If there is one thing we know now that we didn't realize before that fateful date, it is that we don't know enough about how young men think, especially those who live on the margins of society. In that sense, You Hear Me? is a book we need to read. Equally as important as the individual pieces in it is who wrote those pieces, and a reader inevitably tunes in as much to the tone of the young voices as to what they are actually saying. The in-your-face title even demands that you do that.

The You Hear Me? writers are not skilled enough in the use of language to create multi-dimensional works that resonate in a reader's mind after the book is put down. One of them, however, comes close. He is fifteen-year-old Tito D.Tate, who writes:

    I Love to Hear

    how women say
    My name
    "Tito. . ."
    "Tito. . ."
    --saying it
    over and over
    as if they don't want
    to let go.

I admire the author for letting us ride into his subconscious, and give him his due as he modestly struggles with power. Admirable, too, is how he is able to transform his aural intelligence into something a reader can hear as well.

Another poem is called "He Shaved His Head" and it is written by thirteen-year-old Rene Ruiz. It reminds me of the hijackers.

    He shaved his head to release his imagination
    He did it to get a tattoo on his shining head.
    He did it to lose his normality.
    He did it to become a freak.
    He did it because he was angry.
    He did it to make people angry.
    He did it for himself.

The seventy-three pieces in You Hear Me? stay within the range of conventional English expression, with a few exceptions. One, called "I Hate School," uses the "f" word nine times over the course of nine paragraphs, as proof, most likely, that the writer is quite angry. You come away from the rant feeling slightly relieved that the author has at least spewed his poisonous thoughts on paper and not acted them out otherwise.

You Hear Me? begs for an answer, so I will give one, and it is this: Yes, I hear you but tell me what you want me to do next.

© 2002 Liz Bass

    Liz Bassis a retired teacher and principal of a continuation school in Northern California.

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