Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore

I just got back from my niece's wedding, a five-hour drive each way, that I made solo. I had a big pile of audiotapes, but I couldn't decide which one to bring since none of them jumped out at me as you-must-listen-to-me-first titles, so I brought them all. I figured I would have an audio "tasting" party and sample a bit of each book, and that in the end, one would surely show itself as a "must-read." First I put in "The Big Short," by Michael Lewis, but there was so much detailed information on sub-prime interest rates, I decided it was just too much work for my drive. Then I tried Tana French's "In the Woods," which I might get back to, but at a whopping 18 discs felt like too much of a commitment. Then came "Days of Obligation," by Richard Rodriguez, which was also good, but felt too heavy for my drive. I liked the first disc of Andrew Sean Greer's "The Confessions of Max Tivoli," but still wasn't satisfied. I wanted something else. So I put in the first disc of the last audiobook in my stack, "The Other Wes Moore." I didn't hold out much hope for this book; its title made it sound flat. After the the first couple of tracks, though, I knew it was bashert.

"The Other Wes Moore" is the story of two boys who had very similar beginnings, but whose lives diverged dramatically as they grew up. Wes Moore, the author, grew up in a single parent household, in poor neighborhoods, and began to show signs of acting out and rebellion. His mother first had him attend a ritzy, private school, but when he continued to give her problems, sent him to a military boarding school to force him back on the right track. Not only did Moore end up on the right track, but he excelled, matriculated from Johns Hopkins, became a Rhodes Scholar, and wrote this book.

During his studies Moore became aware of another young man who shared his name, who had been convicted of killing a police officer and was serving a life sentence. Author Moore sends the other Moore a letter, and they embark on a relationship. The other Wes Moore had many of the same disadvantages as the author, but, for myriad reasons, had not been able to overcome the challenges of his life. In "The Other Wes Moore," Moore contrasts their lives, examining each in order to learn why their lives took such different paths.

I appreciated Moore's unflinching honesty as he wrote of the issues of the poor African American community in which both Moores were raised. He brings up important questions about how the things that happen to us in our formative years impact us as we mature. He shows how easy it is to get off track. The tales of both Wes Moore's are compelling, and author Moore ends his book with an epilogue and call to action that are poignant.

Moore's style reminded me of Mitch Albom's writing, especially since "The Other Wes Moore" and Albom's new book both contrast two people who share important touchstones in life. Coincidentally, one of the authors Moore says inspired him towards his literary path is Albom. Moore's book, however, has more gravitas. I suppose sometimes the student rises above the teacher.

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