Sunday, October 7, 2007
Forged by Fire by Sharon Draper
Teachers and media specialists everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Sharon Draper. I know that her books have been financially successful and as far as I’m concerned, she has earned every penny. I have never given Forged by Fire or Tears of a Tiger to a child and they not fall in love with it. These books are two of my “go-to” books when I have child who hates to read. As I said before, thank goodness for Sharon Draper.
When Gerald is three years old, his drug-addicted mother leaves him alone in their apartment. Gerald finds her cigarette lighter and accidentally sets their apartment on fire. He is rescued and his mother is sent to prison for child neglect and abandonment. Gerald is rescued by his Aunt Queen and he lives happily with her for the next six years. He heals emotionally and all is well until his ninth birthday. On that day his mother shows back up. It turns out that she was pregnant when she went prison, and her baby daughter, Angel, has been raised by her boyfriend, Jordan (now her husband), and her boyfriend’s mother. Gerald also meets Angel and Jordan for the first time. He tells them all that he wants to continue living with Aunt Queen and it looks as though that will happen until Queen has a heart attack later in the day and dies. Gerald is devastated. He loses the one stable thing in his life and is forced to go live with his mom and her new family.
Gerald immediately dislikes Jordan. He discovers that Jordan is both physically and emotionally abusive to everyone, and then he finds out that he is sexually abusing Angel. Gerald is brave enough to tell the father of one of his friends and Jordan is sent to prison. Unfortunately his mother refuses to believe her children and only wants Jordan back
Fast forward several years. Both Gerald and Angel have begun to heal emotionally from Jordan’s abuse. Angel has become a talented dancer and Gerald is a basketball player and all-around good kid. Then Jordan gets out of prison. Gerald’s mom wants him back in her house and soon enough he is. Although he is behaving himself for the time being, the reader knows that it’s just a matter of time until he is back to his old tricks again.
I reread Forged by Fire earlier this week because it is one of the books on North Carolina’s Battle of the Books list. I enjoyed it every bit as much this time as I did almost ten years ago when I first read it. Sharon Draper has written a book about serious issues, but has managed to do it in a way that makes it an appropriate middle school read. The book is free of swearing, and the sexual abuse happens “off camera.” As I said before, my students eat this book up. Yours will too.