Genre: Young Adult Nonfiction, Biography, Graphic Novel.
Audience: Grades 6-12 (and up)
Read-Aloud: I’m not tired yet…
Summary: Youme meets Anthony one day on a crowded subway platform whereupon they begin to have a conversation about art, society, and life as they ride the train together. After showing Anthony a picture she drew of a black woman, he begins to tell her about his life growing up on the streets of New York. First he stays in a homeless shelter but eventually leaves to live on the street, but the cops keep chasing him off so he starts sleeping on trains. One day he gets chased deep into a subway tunnel by police where he discovers an underground city beneath the streets of New York. He builds a life for himself there, 6 stories under the city, and grows and learns from the other residents living there with him. They both worked together to create the graphic novel as a biography of this story.
Themes: One of the most prominent themes in this novel is that of issues in society such as race and poverty. In fact, Anthony’s whole life story can be seen as a direct commentary on how society treats those who have been cast off and thrown away. At his birth he was given away to foster parents, who in turn gave him away to the streets without any sort of education. The city, rather than deal with him, simply sent him to a homeless shelter filled with the sick, destitute, and dying. He decides to live on the street, but find himself chased away at every turn by police in an effort to keep the city clean. As an uneducated black man, society has no use for him and eventually forces him to live deep underground out of sight and out of mind.
Other themes that I believe to play roles in this novel are those of hope and determination. Despite all odds and despite everything that has been against him since his birth, Anthony has persevered. Rather than stay and spend his life in the home he sought out better. Rather than wallow in self pity and remorse when he is chased into the subway tunnels, he takes charge of his life and attempts to change it for the better. He finds hope and help in the residents of the tunnels and listens and learns from them in order to educate himself.
Connections: I would definitely use this book in a classroom as a supplementary text (due to its short length) with other novels that deal with society and race such as To Kill A Mockingbird. It would be extremely interesting to pair the novel with other graphic novels dealing with some of the same issues as well (The Watchmen?). The issues of society and race are also extremely important for students of any age group to learn in order to help create a society that doesn’t simple discard and treat human beings as trash, and the sooner they learn this the better. A big thing that would be of value when using this as a supplementary text would be to teach students about the value of visual media and how it works when combined with literary text. One could base a unit around graphic novels in this way, which would be a new spin on teaching student how to read closely as well as observe closely in order to obtain more information about a particular scene in a novel based on subtle nuances in a character’s facial features and gestures.
Reactions: I loved this novel a lot, despite it being a relatively short read. The watercolor illustrations were gorgeous and detailed enough to capture and evoke the emotions and expressions that the authors wanted to show. I found the story to be extremely interesting and a little inspiring to know that Anthony worked hard and survived through everything thrown at him in order to educate himself and prosper. The issues of race and society that are present in the novel can easily be seen in our current society here in the United States if one looks hard enough, and one cannot deny that Anthony’s story is one out of hundreds more that have been chased down to live in the underground.
Reception: One reviewer at GoodReads said that: “I didn’t like this book nearly as much as I wanted to. Artist Youme Landowne collaborated together with Anthony Horton, a homeless man, on this story of his time living underground in the subway tunnels. I realize Landowne deliberately works in a smudged palette of blacks and grays, but I didn’t find the art particularly effective. For me the story was also far too brief and lacking in detail,” which I can certainly understand as I was left wanting a little more from the very short novel.
Another reviewer took another view in their his/her opinion of the novel: “This is a totally black and white graphic urban novel about homelessness, despair, and redemption through art. The drawings are very powerful, as is the story. I think it might allow some discussion about the psychological nature of graffiti, as well as the in ability of society to watch out for everyone always, and how that impacts individuals and society as a whole.”