Allison's Book Bag

Amiri and Odette by Walter Dean Myers

Posted on: February 8, 2013

Amiri and Odette didn’t connect with me. At times, this love story by Walter Dean Myers confused me. Just as sadly, the characters in this boldly illustrated picture book failed to move me.

Told in four acts, Amiri and Odette is a poetic retelling of Swan Lake, a play about a beautiful princess who turns into a swan. As Myers explains in his forward, when he saw a production of Swan Lake featuring Erik Bruhn, he noticed that the ever-present threat of violent played a significant part. He began to ask himself if there were modern dangers to young people, similar to those in the legend. In the city, Myers feels, there is an ever-present promise of youth. But news headlines also speak of lurking dangers. And so Myers wrote Amiri and Odette, with the aim of bringing healing and caution.

In the first act, the Swan Lake projects are introduced: “These streets are vicious, these streets are wild, these streets have mouths.” Amiri also makes an appearance. He is a young person, with bright vision, but he is also a warrior and a prince of the night. Unfortunately, the descriptions rely far too heavily on adjectives rather than concrete examples. Consequently, I feel removed from the setting or as if a spectator instead of an involved reader.

In the second act, Amiri is playing on the basketball courts. Then he discovers the girl, Odette. She tells Amiri that she has danced with angels and sung with nightingales, but now she’s a fallen sparrow bound forever by her pain. The reason for her grief wasn’t clear to me, nor did I understand why her flock left without her. The whole act befuddled me, instead of evoking my sympathies.

By the third act, I have figured out that Odette is promised to Big Red. Yet I don’t understand why that causes Odette heartache. What’s wrong with Big Red, other than of course the fact Odette has fallen for Amiri? That seems to be the major conflict. Well, and the issue that somehow Amiri also ends up betraying Odette.

Perhaps, Myers left out too many details from the original for those like me who are unfamiliar with Swan Lake to comprehend his retelling of the legend. Maybe the fault lays with Swan Lake itself, which I haven’t seen performed, in being just about two guys fighting over one girl. Whichever is true, I didn’t end up caring who won the girl. That also means I missed out on the healing and caution, which Myers hoped to bring to readers.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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