Fast talk on a slow road
By: Rita Garcia Williams
Main Character: Dinizulu “Denzel” Watkins
While a casual reference to the World Trade Center and the lack of cell phones and email somewhat dates this story, the pressures upon young men to succeed at school, with girls, for their families and to each other does not. As the story begins, it is difficult to like Denzel Watson. While he is an intelligent young man, he’s stupid and immature, thinking the entire world revolves around him. He spends time in a summer program at Princeton so that he can be prepared for the rigors he will face when school begins in the fall. Denzel doesn’t think he needs this program, thinks he can float through classes like he did in high school. He was valedictorian at a poorly performing school. When he realizes he’s not quite intellectually as impressive as he thought, he becomes gripped with fear and doesn’t think he will succeed at all. He decides to give up and must decide how to tell his father this; his father who thrived during the era of the Black Power movement and who has so much faith in his son. Some compassion builds for Denzel when we see the roles he is pressured into playing for his father and mother. I don’t know that I ever grew to really like Denzel, but I did hope that he would achieve success. Denzel matures enough to realize how little he really knows, and how much he needs to know.
Garcia-Williams writes a compelling coming of age story that reminds us how difficult life can be for young men of color, even in an age where barriers are beginning to blur. While we are present in Denzel’s thoughts, Garcia touches on many issues such as inequity in education, male/female relationships and family expectations in a manner that leaders to thought and discussion. One of the strengths of the story is the way issues are presented for consideration rather than in a heavy handed, preaching manner. Following Denzel through this summer of growth can give the reader much to consider!