Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Riot by Walter Dean Myers

Riot is a historical fiction novel by Walter Dean Myers, who is a prolific young adult writer. Historical fiction are stories set during real life past events, but the characters have been made up my the author. In this case, Myers' story takes place in New York City in July 1863. The Civil War still wages on and the Battle of Gettysburg has recently taken place. The real life event Myers focuses on is a riot that took place in New York City on July 11, 1863. This event would later be known at the New York City Draft Riots of 1863.

During the war there was an escalation of tension, especially after a draft was federally instituted. All male citizens between ages 20-35, as well as unmarried men ages 35-45 could be enlisted into the army by way of a lottery draw. Men who could afford to pay $300 could buy there way out of the draft, which alienated lower class immigrants, including the Irish. Black men were also not required to serve in the military because they did not have citizen status. Riots broke out in New York City after the July lottery. Frustrated by their forced participation in the Civil War, many of the rioters were Irish Americans. Stores and buildings were looted and set afire. Many black Americans, whom the Irish blamed, were attacked and in some cases murdered.

Myers' story focused on Clair, a 15-yr-old daughter of an Irish mother and black father. Claire is torn between the conflict because of her mix background and is forced to address race issues and her own identity.

Riot addresses race, bigotry, and social class. Myers delivers this story as a screenplay, as he did with Monster, which may appear and read oddly to the traditional book reader. However, this style does move the story along quickly and gives the reader an idea of just how tense people were due to their frustration, exhaustion, and emotional turmoil evoked during the Civil War. Myers allows young adults to better understand the reasons that brought on the riots through his unique way of storytelling.

The Young Adult collection at Moore Memorial Public Library contains several books written by Walter Dean Myers, including Sunrise over Fallujah, Monster, and Street Love.