“Don’t take my kindness for weakness”
This proverbial expression looms as an overall theme in Shawn Goodman’s soon-to-be-best-seller novel, Kindness For Weakness. The story follows fifteen-year-old James who, coming from an abusive household, desperately searches for what it means to be a man. Due to this, James ends up selling drugs for his macho brother, Louis, and undoubtedly ends up in one of the worst juvenile detention centers around.
Throughout the story, James comes across a number of hot-headed, clinically insane and seriously troubled characters that will leave any reader with mixed feelings. I’ve never favored cowards and persons who are prone to serious low self esteem and because of this, I only came to like James’ character coming to the end of the book. Despite the fact that he is the protagonist. Personally, I liked Samson, one of the counselors at the detention center, and Jame’s high school English teacher, Mr. Pfeffer, the best. In a society that preaches violence as the way to exert one’s masculinity and power, these two individuals rise as the perfect example for James; Mr. Pfeffer encourages James to explore his unique writing ability and befriends him in the process over root beer. At one point in time, James questions about whether or not real men drink root beer. Mr. Pfeffer playfully curves this kind of thinking by doing what most teachers do best. Answering one question with another. Likewise, Samson dominates the respect of the young males at the detention center and having always lead Group, manages to slowly change James’ misconception of manhood. Samson makes such an impression on James that when trouble arises in the center James, a self-professed coward, tries to back Samson up.
Reading Kindness For Weakness was both a tiring and curious adventure. A tiring read because most of the time, I was bombarded with James’ constant depressing views of himself and a curious read because I was eager to see the aftermath of this disastrous situation James got himself into. However, the ending of this story left me feeling as if I were playing one of the most challenging video games I’ve ever come across and because of a glitch in the game, had to start over from square one. The whole novel is a flashback of how James got to be where he is and at the end of the book, leaves readers hanging by coming back from the flashback and going no where else.
What I particularly liked about Kindness For Weakness was the fact that the author used a lot of emotionally-charged phrases; when James is cornered by Antwon, one of the “baddest” guys in the center, who spits on him, he describes the glob of snot’s presence as if it’s “made of concentrated hate and it is burning through my clothes, seeping into my skin, contaminating me with rage.”
I also admired that the writer was conscious of the fact that millions of authors have already written books on teens who find themselves locked up in a juvenile detention center and decided to add a twist to his story by incorporating some of these novels into his own. These literary references (given to James as homework assignments from Mr. Pfeffer) are what guides most of James’ decisions and actions.
The book is mainly geared towards a male audience and could more than likely be labelled as a coming-of-age story. In sight of this, female readers might not be able to fully relate to the situations and scenarios in this novel. Yet, they can still get an in-depth look at the journey a boy takes in order to become a man.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (May 14, 2013)
Length: 272 pages (Hardcover)
Source: ARC (Provided by publisher)
Genre: Contemporary YA, Violence
Completed: May 2013