Sunday, December 9, 2007

Critical Analysis of Tears of a Tiger and Forged by Fire

Tears of a Tiger is a compelling story about a group of teenagers at Hazelwood High School. They are popular, smart kids whose lives change with just one night. While driving around after a basketball game, star player and captain Robbie Washington and his best friend and co-captain Andy Jackson and two of their friends, BJ and Tyrone experience tragedy when Robbie is killed in a car accident. The boys were drinking and driving. All the boys were able to get out of the car alive, but Robbie was pinned in the car when it exploded, burning him to death. Andy was driving the car at the time of the accident. Despite therapy and support from his friends, he never could shake the guilt. His thoughts were filled with memories of Robbie, his heart broke for Robbie’s family and he couldn’t stand to face them. Andy insisted that no one could ever forgive him for what he had done because he couldn’t seem to forgive himself. He was ashamed at school sometimes and at night he had nightmares. Often Andy would dream that Robbie would talk to him and say that he was cold and lonely in the cemetery…in his mind, Robbie would ask Andy to join him in heaven because he was bored and didn’t have anyone to play basketball with. Andy lost his grasp on reality and couldn’t clear his conscious. Andy committed suicide and ended his pain but left the people who cared about him to mourn the loss of the tiger who cried.

This book addresses some really heavy issues. Family support and the lack thereof, suicide, and underage drinking, teen relationships, the importance of communication and school life are some of the problems these kids deal with in the book.

Tears, opens with a news article from the Hazelwood newspaper describing what happened on that dreadful night. From then on, Sharon uses some really creative literary techniques to convey this story. She uses poetry written as homework assignments by the teens, newspaper clippings from the local paper, essays and traditional style to tell the story of Andy, Gerald, Robbie, Keisha, BJ, Rhonda, Monty and the rest involved with this twisting story. I found this to be an interesting technique that really worked. Instead of using only traditional voice, this book allows readers to get the point-of-view of several people involved and it made for an easy read. I almost felt like I could change into different roles while reading this novel. While reading the newspaper clippings, I felt like a parent, a concerned community member, a journalist. When I read the essay by the kids, I felt like a friend, a fellow student, a teacher. Reading the poetry sections gave me the artistic feeling of an artist in touch with emotion, a poet, a person who found a unique way to express my thoughts. Finally, the traditional parts made me feel like a reader. I think that is what Sharon Draper wanted her readers to do while reading Tears of a Tiger. She wanted people to switch into different roles and really get into multiple characters so that they could experience this tale from different sides.

While reading this book, my heart went out to Andy. It was obvious that his parents were able to provide comfort through material possessions, but he was crying out for the warmth and love of his parents. It was made known to readers that Robbie Washington, was smart, popular and had a promising future in academics and basketball ahead of him. Andy on the other hand, was not a natural basketball player. He was good, but he had to work harder at it than his best friend. Andy’s grades weren’t that great either. He was an average student who could have had better grades if he had put a little more effort into it. Andy was close with Robbie’s family. He often spent time at their house, Robbie’s mother and father attended every basketball game and was really involved with their son’s life. Andy’s parents never came to his games and only talked about school with him when they lectured him for doing bad. All along Andy was screaming out for help. It is signs like these that often go unnoticed with young people. Because Andy already had feelings of doubt and was affected by the lack of love from his parents, dealing with the death of his best friend was simply unbearable. That’s why this book is a good read for pre-teens and teenagers. To Andy, things seemed bad, really, really bad, but that does not have to mean that it is the end. This book hopefully encourages young readers not to be afraid to talk to someone when things seem damaged beyond repair.

Through Andy’s eyes, the only thing constant in his life was his girlfriend Keisha. She was the only one who he let see how depressed he was. Months after the accident he stopped going to the therapist but couldn’t shake the nightmares and guilt. His parents never noticed the seriousness of his condition. When the heavy weight of his depression started to wear on Keisha, she broke up with him. After that, things spiraled fast.

After Andy’s suicide, Sharon Draper tells how the people around him were affected by this tragic event through a poetry assignment in school. Usually, an author would simply write something like “after Andy’s death, the student’s wrote poetry to express how they felt about what he did…” but Sharon actually used several pages of the book to present to readers the actual poetry written in the words of each of Andy’s friends and his little brother Monty.

Tears of a Tiger has an interesting title too. Before I read and while I was reading the book, I was wondering how the connection will be revealed. The most obvious connection is shown through Andy and his school. He played basketball for the Hazelwood High School Tigers. Tiger is the school mascot. The tears are representative of the pain Andy feels over his guilt. I also think that the reference refers to the school itself. Andy isn’t the only one who feels pain from the events that took place. His friends, teachers and staff at his school were also affected by the loss of Robbie, then Andy. We see the other connection of the title Tears of a Tiger through an encounter between, Andy and his little brother Monty. Monty is so much younger than Andy, he looked up to his big brother. Little kids are often very smart and pick up on things that adults sometimes overlook. Monty could see that his brother’s heart was aching. He was there when Andy would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and sweating from nightmares about Robbie. Monty could feel that something was wrong with his big brother. One day while drawing a picture, Monty drew a tiger crying. Andy saw his brother’s picture and told his brother that tigers don’t cry because tigers are strong. After talking for a while, Andy told Monty that it was okay and he could draw whatever he wanted to and if he wanted to draw a tiger with tears that was okay. The book ends with a letter from Monty to Andy saying goodbye.

Forged by Fire is the second book in the Hazelwood High trilogy by Sharon Drape
r. This is a compassionate story that will leave you feeling like you’ve experienced firsthand what the characters in the book have gone through. The story starts with Gerald Nickelby. In the first book, he was a tall, handsome teen basketball star at Hazelwood High School; this book takes readers back to when Gerald was a three-year-old toddler and we journey with him through the pain, secrets and trials of his life.

Gerald’s mother was addicted to drugs; she’d leave him by himself for days in dirty diapers with no food to eat. She was also abusive toward him, burning him with lighters, leaving him in dirty diapers for days and not feeding him regularly. One day, Monique (his mother), left her baby all alone for a few hours. While playing with a lighter, one of the only things he had to play with besides a GI Joe man, he sat the house on fire by accident. That fire sent him into a whirlwind that became his life’s story.

The only relative that Gerald had who cared about him was his Aunt Queen. She had tried to take him away from his mother before she went to jail for child neglect and child endangerment but was unsuccessful. The only person willing to take him, Aunt Queen had to fight to get her nephew. She ensued on a small battle because she was in a wheelchair. She won the fight and forged ahead with her sweet Gerald. Gerald’s life was filled with love and happiness for many years. Aunt Queen warmed his spirit with thoughts of hot food and a warm bed. He loved living with Aunt Queen and had learned to block out memories of Monique.

One day, Aunt Queen told Gerald that his mother would be visiting him. He found out that she’d been out of jail for a year and wanted to come see him on his birthday. Gerald didn’t want to see her but she came anyway. Monique wasn’t alone; she came with a sister Angel whom he never knew he had and a stepfather Jordan who would become the antagonist in the book. The stress of that visit, put strain on Aunt Queen and she died of a heart attack.

After living with his Aunt Queen in a stable, loving household, Gerald finds himself stripped away from all that was familiar to him. He is forced to move into a small apartment with Monique, Jordan and his sister Angel. The book journeys through the lives of Angel and Gerald who become very close. Jordan sexually abuses Angel, beats Monique and hits on Gerald. Gerald becomes the protector of Angel and when he can’t protect himself anymore, he makes a decision to face Jordan once and for all.

After surviving years of physical abuse and Angel being sexually abused by her dad, one of his best friends dying in a car crash, another committing suicide, Gerald finally gets the courage to face his stepfather Jordan for the last time. While trying to molest Angel, the house catches fire (a familiar scene from the beginning of the book) and Jordan and Gerald go to battle. Gerald, now a teenager, is trying to defend himself and end all his pain. Jordan being the coward he is, tried to escape the fire in the house and leave his kids to burn to death but ended up collapsing and died. Gerald and Angel survive the fire and a whole lot more.

This powerful novel allows children to read about child abuse, the effects of drugs, low self-esteem and the trials of kids and teens in an appropriate manner. Sharon Draper is careful not to cross uncomfortable boundaries with the age range for this book. She never actually says that Angel is “sexually abused” in those words, but readers know what is going on. Forged by Fire is sure to have students talking and eager to further explore many of the themes in this book. Like Tears of a Tiger, this selection is recommended for students in sixth through ninth grades.

Comparison and Contrast of Tears and Forged

There are some significant differences between the two books. Much of the distinction appears in the storytelling aspect of both books. Tears of a Tiger uses various literary techniques like poetry, essays and newspaper articles to convey the message. Forged by Fire uses more visual effects through traditional writing techniques. The story is written plainly, just as it is. I liked this difference though. The essays and such were appropriate for Tears but would not have worked in Forged.

Another noticeable difference between the two books was the lack of chapter titles in Forged by Fire. I missed not having titles for the chapters because I rely on those to set the mood for whatever I’m about to read. Tears of a Tiger had chapter titles that encompassed what the following chapter would be about. It helped me to visually prepare for what I was about to read.

In comparison, both books had a great connection between the book title and the story. Both book titles directly related to the storyline. Forged by Fire’s story line was set into place and ended due to Fire. Tears of a Tiger was a metaphor for Andy and his pain. I liked the connection that was drawn by Sharon Draper.

Another similarity is that both stories utilized the younger siblings to tap into reader’s sympathetic side. In Forged it was Angel who suffered a great deal due to her stepfather’s abuse. Gerald was her protector. In Tears, although Monty became sort of his own protector, there was a great connection between him and his big brother Andy.

Both books had strong family themes. Both books used words in a clever manner to create imagery and clearly tell the story. The formula for both books was the same in that they opened with tragedy, both went through a whirlwind of solutions then pain again, then the characters found peace in the conclusion.

Both of these books are wonderful pieces of work by Sharon Draper. Tears of a Tiger and Forged by Fire have sparked my interest in this author. I plan to read the final book in the trilogy as well as other pieces of work by Sharon.

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