Book: Myers, Walter Dean. Crystal. New York: Harper Collins, 1987.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: This book is intended for ages 12+
Summary: Crystal is a six teen year old black girl, growing up in Harlem. When a director comes to her church to shoot a chicken commercial, he notices Crystal in the background and decides she looked “too clean” to be a “normal” black person eating chicken. He had Loretta, who becomes her agent, take some photographs and book her as a client. She starts modeling in small, print ads first, but soon learns that she has to show more to get more. She is constantly torn by the decisions she must make: assert her race or let it go, modest or loose, family or the industry. They seem simple to a normal person, but for a poor teen, it becomes enough to turn her life upside down.
Themes: One of the themes prevalent in this book is identity conflict. Crystal is a sweet, modest girl but soon learns that she has to “use what she has” to get money: it takes more than just a pretty face to be a model in the industry, especially if you are black. The young girl struggles between her role as a “good girl” at school, church, and home as compared to being the sultry teen seductress that her agent wants her to be.
Another theme explored in this book is race. Crystal searches for fame in a market that is predominantly ran by whites, and does not like the ways in which they throw it in her face. New photographers are even rude enough to tell her, “try not to look too black,” (p 33). She is determined to assert her identity as a young, black woman but worries that everyone else is even more determined for her not to think that way.
Family is also heavily explored in the novel. Crystal’s mom is an active participant in all of her early photoshoots, and the young girl is offended when her agent asks her mother not to show up. Crystal’s father is not a big fan of her new choice in career but agrees as long as she does not change her behavior. The Browns had a very strong family unit and did whatever they could to keep it that way.
Connections: This book could be used along with Anderson’s, Wintergirls, as to show how important a person’s self image is, or it could be used with Myers’, Monster, to discuss racism and urban lifestyles. This book deals a lot with race, but also how the choices one makes could either make or ultimately destroy them.
Reactions: Well, I did not care for the book very much. I felt like the description was very well written when I was looking for a book, and it quickly drew me in, however, it was not what I expected. I felt like it was very cliche and non-realistic; it was almost like an urban fairytale. I did not like the language of the book, I found it ridiculous and just the overall flow didn’t work for me. It really did not hold my attention and was hard to read.
Reception: Gerry Lawson is a middle school student, that found the book to be very interesting and captivating. He believes Myers’ details about the industry are what really draws readers like himself in and hold his interest as well. Lawson states that the author has “created a beautiful but believable teenage heroine who makes a stand for personal integrity in a competitive world,” and for that, he really enjoyed the book.
A reader that simply goes by the name Brittany, reveals that she has a similar feeling about the book, as compared to myself. She writes that she “didn’t really enjoy this book,” and found most of Myers’ story to be unbelievable. Overall, Brittany states that, “it just felt overdone.” This young lady’s review can be read in full here. She is the 2nd review on the list.