All the Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers
This book will surprise regular readers of Myers’ fast-paced urban fiction. Although the Harlem setting is typical Myers, the story is less central to the book than an intellectual discussion of ideas. Paul DuPree has gotten a summer job at local soup kitchen, but learns that the owner, named Elijah, is more interested in discussing the social contract than anything else. He talks to Paul about the basic ideas behind the Social Contract, as well as to the teachings of philosophers Locke, Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau. Even though the book isn’t based on a riveting story like the author’s previous books, Monster and Hoops being two of the most popular titles here at Berkeley High School, it doesn’t lag as the characters discuss personal vesus government responsibility and the nature of society. Throughout the book, Paul finds himself comparing people in his life to the daily discussion he looks forward to with Elijah: Keisha, the unwed teen mother he’s mentoring in basketball; his father, who made too many bad choices involving family, work and drugs; and Sly, a young hustler in the neighborhood who argues convincingly that the social contract is just another way to keep poor people in poverty.
I ended up really enjoying this book, even though it might not be the perfect fit for all YA readers. I would recommend it to teens looking for something deeper and more thoughtful than the usual urban teen fare, or regular fans of Walter Dean Myers willing to stretch beyond his usual urban, street life stories.