Allison's Book Bag

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

Posted on: February 15, 2013

Lockdown is my sixth book by Walter Dean Myers. Unlike some of my earlier selections, Lockdown is written in straightforward prose instead of an alternate format such as script or verse. In being about a teenager who is locked up in a juvenile detention facility, Lockdown also makes my third book by Myers which focuses exclusively on street youth. Each new reading selection has heightened my respect for Myers as an author; Lockdown is no exception.

For those who are sheltered from the street life that led fourteen-year-old Reese to a juvenile detention facility, Lockdown provides insight into his mind and should provide you with empathy for youth like him. At first I struggled to relate to Reese, who starts out being willing to fight anyone in Progress, the institution where he serves time. Never having been in a fight, my first reaction in a conflict has never been to use my fists. Thus, because all Reese must do to receive an early parole is keep himself clean, my initial reaction was: Why doesn’t Reese just walk away from fights? How hard can that be? True, sometimes Reese got into fights to protect a friend.  Does that mean Reese is noble and just, and so has an excuse for his actions? Actually, no. In reality,  Reese threw a punch because someone ridiculed or threatened him. As I read more of Lockdown, and of Reese’s conflicted thoughts about his fighting, I started thinking about issues that many Americans face. For example, how many times have you promised yourself to diet? Then something goes wrong and you console yourself with ice-cream? If that happens too many times the pounds will keep adding up, but it’s hard to remember or care about that when you’re in the depths of despair. Or how many times have you promised yourself to budget? Then you see something on sale that you must have. You tell yourself, just this one time, and before you know it your money is gone again. The same is true about Reese and fights. He intends to resist, but situations reel him in and sink him. Other times he finds himself instinctively decking a combatant, the way you might duck if a baseball flew at your head. I love this line in Lockdown: “…. he said the streets were like quicksand covered with whipped cream. You knew when they were slowing your ass down, but it always came as a surprise when you got sucked under.” In other words, walking away from fights is as tough for Reese as sticking to diets and budgets are for others.

For those who are acquainted with the life that led Reese to a juvenile detention facility, Lockdown serves a cautionary tale of hope. Verbal abuse and physical threats from his peers assault Reese on a daily basis. At least once a week, innocuous activities such as playing basketball, hanging out with a friend, or voicing his opinion run him the risk of being beaten up. After one fight, Reese is sent to detention in a small locked room for five days. Adults warn Reese that if he continues to mess up, he could end up sentenced to years, not days or even months, in an adult prison. When Reese is offered payment as part of a work program, the checks pay for his transportation to the job, phone calls he makes to his family, and other similar expenses. In other words, nothing ever really belongs to him. Speaking of that job, some of the seniors whom Reese meets at the retirement home become suddenly protective of their possessions when Reese passes their room. Suspicious glances are part of Reese’s lot in life now that he is a criminal. One of the most compelling scenes involves a police investigation in the course of which Reese is told to plea bargain or face life in prison. How did this investigation come about? Reese had been involved with a drug dealer who ended up murdering someone. Why did the police pick up Reese? Basically, once labeled as a criminal, one will always be viewed as a criminal—even if one’s only crime was stealing prescription pads to make ends meet. In this case the police were willing to implicate anyone involved with the dealer, in their quest for justice. Reese even hits a point where he wonders if life outside of prison will be better for him. If all that awaits him outside are gangs and violence, how is he better off staying clean? Yet if he stays in prison, he could end up dead too. If ever a book could convince youth to stay on the straight and narrow, Lockdown is it.

Each consecutive book I read by Myers becomes my new favorite. Lockdown currently appeals to me the most because it offers more solutions and hope than the others I have read. In counseling sessions, Reese is told that fighting for whatever reason will land him in more trouble. Therefore, he needs to figure out better ways to deal with conflicts. One of the dilemmas he faces is that others who have less hope of ever leaving will attempt to derail him. He needs to have  strategies to deal with these moments of crisis. A gentleman he meets at the senior home where he works is one of the caring adults who helps him figure out those fall back plans. When up for early parole, Reese offers various reasons why the board should listen to them. Among his reasons are his siblings. When Reese is released from Progress, his plan is to act as a role model to his brother by staying in school. He also intends to find a job so that he can support his sister through college. With these ambitions, and because of the adults who are his support system, one feels hopeful that Reese will overcome the street life.

Myers has written over fifty books, several of which were experimental in style and many of which have won awards. I’ll miss reading Myers’  books, which have reminded me that there are real human beings behind those faces we see on television. If you have been following my reviews of Myers’ books, I would love to hear from you. Which are you planning to read? What were your favorites?

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

2 Responses to "Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers"


I’m a fan of Myers also although I haven’t read any of his books recently. I’ve heard him talk at several conferences, and he is such an interesting person and so dedicated not just to writing but to his readers as well. Thanks, Allison, for reviewing his work and maybe introducing him to more readers.

Every year the children’s literacy festival that I attends asks for its attendees to suggest authors whom they’d like to have speak at the festival. Myers will be on my request list.

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