Often stories paint inspirational pictures of people who beat the odds: kids under extreme duress facing and overcoming impossible-seeming challenges. But as author Walter Dean Myers reminds readers in DARIUS AND TWIG, sometimes even a winning attitude and believing in yourself isn't enough to tip the scales in your favor.
Darius lives in a struggling single-parent household in Harlem. Even though he's a good kid who cares about all the right things --- his family, his grades and staying out of trouble --- he can't help but feel that the cards are not stacked in his favor. Though a talented writer, he's afraid that without stand-out grades, he doesn't stand a chance of getting a college scholarship. And though he's got the backing of his favorite writing teacher, he's pretty sure that her rather flaccid support is not enough to make him a star. The only thing that keeps him from losing hope is his best friend, Twig.
Twig's a runner --- a really, super, insanely fast runner with an unbeatable attitude and a contagious smile. But Darius wonders whether Twig is fast enough to outrun the bullies that threaten him and with them, the shackles of his socioeconomic reality. As Twig continues to triumph in ever more impressive races, Darius' hopes build. But it seems like everyone is intent on reminding him that Twig won't go as far as he hopes. And even if he does, Twig may end up leaving Darius in the dust.
Myers doesn't pretend that the world is perfect --- far from it. In fact, through most of the book it feels as though Darius and Twig are teetering on the edge, only slightly ahead of the danger that pervades their world. Street fights, alcoholism, gang violence and guns make up the vocabulary of the two boys' lives. And yet, the poetry of Darius' prose is believable, perhaps because he uses writing as an escape hatch.
Writing isn't Darius' only escape hatch. He's also got an alter ego, Fury, who takes the shape of a peregrine falcon who preys on those who would prey on others. It may seem unusual to find a peregrine falcon cruising the streets of Harlem, but then again, Darius is a rare find as well. And even though Harlem may not be a falcon's natural habitat, some creatures will thrive even when their surroundings don't loan themselves to soaring.
Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg