BANG! Mann’s little brother is shot and killed right in front of him. BANG! Mann’s role model and “big brother” is shot and killed. BANG! Who is it this time? Bang!, is a story written by Sharon G. Flake about a young African American boy who struggles to understand and become a man in the violent world he lives in. His mom spends her time crying and doing strange things to preserve her dead son’s memories and his dad has completely shut off all emotion and tries to keep Mann from being killed by acting like a drill sergeant. The days of horseback riding and care have long lost their therapeutic power and Mann’s best friend Kee-lee may not offer the right solutions either. Feeling forced into manhood, Mann takes a tumultuous turn and his life becomes extremely different. Can Mann keep himself from turning into the kind of man that everyone around him seems to be?
This story begins with Mann’s recollection of his younger brother Jason being shot right in front of him. Mann is having a hard time trying to understand the world around him. Who shoots an innocent little boy? Mann spends his time caring for and riding the horses at the stables not far from his violence-filled neighborhood. It is there that he finds solace, but soon the stables are shut down. He also spends his time with his best friend Kee-lee. Kee-lee has long since lost the battle that so many other boys in Mann’s neighborhood have also lost. Kee-lee smokes pot and does other things to keep his mind off the violence that has overtaken their lives. Soon, Mann joins in as an effort to put himself out of his misery. As young man after young man is killed in this neighborhood, Mann’s mother becomes even more depressed and worried about her son. Mann father, also worried, attempts to keep his son from violence in another way. He treats his son like a soldier, no crying, no coddling, just manhood at its barest. His father worries that Mann is too soft and will end up the next one killed, he think Mann needs to learn to defend himself. After a particularly bad fight Mann gets into with a classmate, a spell in juvenile hall, and some counseling things begin to look up in his life. Until…BANG! Another young man is killed right in front of his house. After that, Mann’s father is determined to make his son a man. He drives Mann and Kee-lee to a camping spot far from their home. It’s a place where everyone walks around without any care in the world. Mann’s father tries to teach the boys how to use a gun and defend themselves. Then, without warning, he drives away and leaves the boys there. The boys have to find their way home through racism and all that two African-American boys will suffer at the hands of the world. When Mann gets home, his father gives him some money and kicks him out of the house. Kee-lee’s mom is also in on the plan and Kee-lee is also kicked out. They move into Kee-lee’s aunt’s house. Kee-lee’s aunt runs a house for prostitutes, drug-addicts, and gamblers. The boys are then made her runners and exposed to even more violence. BANG! Kee-lee is killed and Mann is on his own. Mann then lives a life filled with alcohol, drugs, and more violence. Finally, Mann cannot take it anymore. He goes to the one place that has always offered him security, the horse stables. Long since shut down, Mann lives in the abandoned buildings and spends his time with his art. Soon, Mann finds himself taking care of two very ill horses and who else should come to help him but his father? The two talk and discover what was missing all the time. Mann has become a man his father is proud of and he discovers why.
I think this book would be an excellent book for young adults to read. It is very insightful to the violent world that many poverty stricken people live in, especially African Americans. I think this book is relevant to the time and place we live in right now because of the violence that is happening in north Omaha. This book needs to be used with caution, however. This book contains a lot of graphic violence, drug and sex references, and some crude humor, but is very real to life. The way the boys interact and dialogue is very much the way young men tend to act. The place to use this book is arguable. In a school where these things are a reality in everyday life, this book would be mild compared to what students are used to being a part of. I would recommend this book for anyone in grades 9-12, in that particular situation. It would offer them an insight and perhaps some inspiration to change their own life path. However, in a suburban, typical high school, I would recommend this book for grades 11-12. Because of the mature subject matter that many of the students have never been exposed to, I feel it is necessary to wait for more mature students to read. I think that it would be a great way for students to get a glimpse of how other people their age are living so differently from them. Even though it is mature content and we should shield our children from certain things, we have to teach our children what the world around them really looks like. Poverty is not a part of my life and quite frankly an uncomfortable subject, but knowing that it is reality is important. Knowing about it helps me to help others in that situation as well as be aware that the world is not only what they know. - AM