Who can I be?
A common question between children about to play a game, “Who can I be?” whether it’s the fire breathing dragon who kidnaps the princess, or the heroic Knight who save the princess, or the awesome princess who gets kidnaped and saves herself. Even though you know you can decide who you want to be, you may still ask that question feeling that you are not completely in control of who you are or What you become. Growing up and deciding who you want to be or your identity is a major element in If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser.
If I Grow Up takes place in the Frederick Douglass Project where DeShawn lives. His daily life is riddled with drugs and gang violence, where many teenagers drop out of school and join gangs, and every kid knows someone who died. DeShawn decides it is best to stay in school and continue his studies, but noticing how his other friends have drug money to buy fancy shoes, new tv’s, cars, and cribs, he is struggling to keep his family fed. He has to decide if his principles mean more to him than supporting his ever growing family, and if gang life is really the best option for him. The story takes place over the span of years and shows how DeShawn grows from 13-28 years of age.
As DeShawn is growing up, he is at the constant struggle of deciding what he wants to do with his life. Who he wants to become, his profession, his lifestyle, his family. As a teenager who is also trying to find himself in the vast world we live in, I can understand how real this is and how growing up and forming an identity for yourself pretty much go hand in hand. As we grow and change in our lives, we develop a greater sense of identity. DeShawn has to decide what kind of man he wants to be, and as he grows and changes his choices begin to shed light on the profession he chooses to take.
An example from the text *(Not to many spoilers ahead, most from first few chapters) is when DeShawn is with his friend Terrell and he sees how Terrell has joined his local gang and has been getting tons of money. Terrell is a dropout. When Terrell offers to take DeShawn to a restaurant to get fried chicken for him and his family, they see their friend Lightbulb working as a busboy and cashier. He decided to stay in school. It seems like it would be obvious that you would want to drop out of school and join a gang, but it becomes more complicated than that. In the end, it all boils down to who he wants to be seen as. He can decide what he wants to do, but the pressures of his life (family, friends, temptation, relationships) seem to narrow his choices and force him to make the decision he may not want to. And even in a modern middle class setting, the pressures placed on children these days is way more immense than that of past children. With social media and smarter children, every flaw and weakness is thrust upon the world forcing you to either fight or run. The weak are separated from the strong, and those that chose to grow and become better have a stronger sense of identity and can be leaders and contribute more in that society. While the weak feel they must conform to social pressures and do as their told, becoming the followers in the society. That is how they are seen. That is how the world works.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and admired how relatable the book was. Like I said before, I am growing up as well and am still trying to decide the kind of person I want to become, but it feels like it becomes harder and easier everyday, depending on the day. Whether you're a teenager who is struggling with identity and want a book you can relate too or you’re an adult who went through what we are going through and you want a good read, I give this book five out of five stars. And personally, I can’t wait to see who I become if I grow up.