Trevor’s Letter-Essay #3: [Book Title]

I have recently completed the novel, Scorpions, a 216 page realistic fiction book by Walter Dean Myers. Walter Dean Myers is has written over 100 books in his career, mostly young adult literature. He has won the Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors five times and he was the third U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, serving in this position from 2012 to 2013.

Scorpions has won many awards, due to its love by readers, but most significantly the Newbery Honor Award in 1989. Scorpions has been translated into many different languages and even a commemorative 25th anniversary edition was made in recognition of its publish date, which was in 1988. I chose this book because I was in need of a realistic fiction novel. I looked around and found this book, Scorpions and thought that it seemed very interesting when I read the back cover. This book was a fairly quick read, though I could have read it faster if I had read it more at home.

Scorpions follows 12 year old Jamal, who lives in New York City and in a poor area. He lives with his mom and 9 year old sister Sassy but without their dad. Their dad was an alcoholic and abused Jamal’s mother. His teachers and principal are always on his case and this one kid bullies him. Jamal’s brother, Randy, was the leader of the Scorpions, a local gang in NYC. Randy is currently in jail and some of the Scorpions want Jamal to become the new leader for them. Jamal doesn’t really have a choice in the matter because he would earn money being the gang leader and doing drug deals. He needs the money to get his brother out of jail. Jamal and Tito, Jamal’s best friend and the one person he can actually trust, seek to learn if it is really the best choice.

I noticed how the author included bad grammar on almost every page such as words like “ain’t” or using double negatives. Walter Dean Myers probably did this to emphasize that the main characters live in such a bad area and may be deprived of the education that they deserve. For example, on page 3, Jamal and his sister Sassy are wondering where their mother is and when she will be back. “‘You see anything?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why don’t you go down to the subway?’ ‘Suppose she come on a bus or take a taxi?’ ‘She ain’t got the money for no taxi.’ ‘She could still take the bus.’” As you can clearly tell, there are many examples of bad grammar in this excerpt. To me, the worst grammar in this quote is when Sassy says “ain’t”. We later find out that the school that Sassy and Jamal go to isn’t like the schools we go to. They don’t educate people enough as some other schools may. In this book, many of the characters use slang words and bad grammar simply because they don’t know to not.

The main character in Scorpions, Jamal, sometimes doesn’t seem to care much about what’s happening throughout the novel. Even when very significant events in the storyline occur, he doesn’t react much, even though at the very least it would make someone feel minor emotions. On page 128, Tito’s Abuela (grandmother) find out a big secret that Tito is taking the hit for even though it is really Jamal’s secret. Abuela is very mad at Tito and says that she never wants to see him again. “‘Abuela told me to leave and not to come back again,’ Tito said. ‘She told you what?’ ‘She told me’–Tito’s body was shaking–’…don’t come back again.’ Tito is Jamal’s best friend and he has just had a traumatizing experience and should be extremely mad at Jamal. He isn’t which shows that he is a very forgiving person. Jamal on the other hand should be comforting Tito and just telling him that it is his fault. Jamal doesn’t do this and Mrs. Hicks (Jamal’s mother) does the comforting part. She doesn’t find out the secret though and Jamal is relieved of this because if she did find out he would be a “dead man”. This shows that Jamal isn’t really the compassionate one or the honest one, shown by the fact that he is devoid of all emotion in this case.

The character development in this novel really doesn’t occur due to Jamal having learned no lesson come the end of the novel. In my opinion, the novel ends on a sad note in many ways, but some of Jamal’s problems seem to work themselves out. I won’t tell you how it ends because YOU SHOULD READ THE BOOK TO FIND OUT. Jamal really doesn’t really do anything to try and solve his problems except looking to Tito for help. Later on in the book the school nurse explains that Jamal needs to take a certain type of medication to make him more calm because he had been getting in trouble in school a lot lately. “‘What’s it for?’ Jamal asked, looking at the form. ‘It’s for something we think will help you a lot,’ Mrs. Roberts said. ‘If you were just a little calmer in school, especially in the mornings, things would be a lot easier for all of us. Wouldn’t you like that?’ ‘I guess so,’ Jamal said. … ‘Then she don’t have to come to school?’ ‘Not for the time being,’ Mr. Davidson said. ‘I’ll give it to her,’ Jamal said.” (page 177). Even though Jamal really hates his teachers, it shows that they kind of care for him, despite all of the bad things he has done. Jamal was still a bad person and this part of the book gave him no opportunities to better himself. He actually seemed to take advantage of the situation so that his mother wouldn’t have to come to school and talk to the principal.

A part I found interesting was when Jamal and Tito got a gun from a Scorpion named Mack. Jamal was very anxious to try and shoot it and he does. “Tito looked around, then down at the pistol, which Jamal handed him. ‘It’s heavy,’ he said. ‘Go on, shoot it.’ Tito held the gun at arm’s length, squeezed his eyes almost shut, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Then he put both hands on the trigger and pulled again. The gun went off and jerked upward in Tito’s hand. He looked at Jamal wide-eyed.” (page 115). I chose this passage because I found how Tito handled the gun to be a bit interesting. This is because of the way he squeezed his eyes shut. Jamal seemed to be the main person who is applying peer pressure on Tito to fire the gun. Tito often gets roped into Jamal’s “schemes” and doesn’t seem to be the head perpetrator. Tito has never fired a gun before and is most likely scared of it. Being best friends with Jamal must be tough since he will want you to do so many things with him that may not be right. This book was very good and definitely made me keep reading to find out what would follow each event. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys realistic fiction novels where the character faces many problems like Wonder or Oliver Twist, and is looking for a quick read.


Trevor Wilkes

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1 thought on “Trevor’s Letter-Essay #3: [Book Title]

  1. Trevor,

    I really liked your essay. I REALLY liked how you provided such a good description of the book as well. This really got me interested in the book and maybe I’ll read it soon. Maybe next time, you could provide a little bit of what Jamal was thinking. Why did he not have a choice but to join the gang?


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