Banks, Melba Patillo
Warriors Don't Cry
This book is a memoir of
the integration of Little Rock's Central High School in the 50's by one of the 9 students who originally entered the school.
The story rings true because Beals does not rely solely on her memories: she has a cache of clippings from that year and her
own diary on which to rely, and she included numerous quotes from both sources. Beals' voice is balanced, which is at
least in part due to her training as a journalist, no doubt. Beals' even-killed voice in the book serves to play up
the almost surreal events in the book. I think if I were to read this story in a novel, I would have felt that it was
sensationalized and unrealistic. The same Akansas National Guard soldiers who are sent to keep them out of the school
initially later become the students' "protectors," and for a time Beals is followed by a soldier from the 101st Airborne
Division. In between, however, many of the Caucasian students manage to inflict a never-ending stream of mental and
physical abuse on the students who are kept separated from each other nearly all day in the huge school. Beals and her
family is attacked from all sides: her friends from her former school ignore or harrass her: sometimes out of apathy, and
sometimes because of the negative effects on their own lives from white employers and creditors. Beals' own mother nearly
loses her own teaching job and for part of the year Beals has to endure financial hardship in addition to her other struggles.
In the last third of the book, Link, a white classmate secretly passes her information about planned attacks and helps her
survive the year. Beals and her grandmother return the favor by helping Link support and care for his former nanny,
who is abandoned by Links' parents with no pension when she becomes too ill to work. This aspect of the story, especially,
would have rung false if this book were fiction: Melbal first meets Link when he lends her his car to help her escape an approaching
mob of segreationists, and his nanny dies while he is at his graduation.
Banks and her classmates come across
as fighters, not as victims, which is often the case with the African-American literature I have read. There are also
no scenes that could be problematic in terms of appropriateness such as there are with books like The Color Purple.
Students from all backgrounds are likely to identify with aspects of the book: most teenagers have experience with feeling
ostrasized or unwanted at one time or another. Banks is also a member of a middle-class household, and she is ironically
forced to negotiate with her mother to be allowed to wear nylons and heels at 16 even though she is being physically attacked
in some manner everyday at school and resorts to the teachings of Ghandi to survive. The book also shows that real life
doesn't start after high school: Banks and her classmates made what is most likely their most lasting contribution to society
before they were 18. Teenagers do make a difference.
Recommendation: A good choice for supplemental reading
with literary works on related topics for high-school students. This book is not difficult to read, but it is more
than 300 pages in length. There is also an abridged edition available, which is highly recommended in O'Dean's Great
Books for Boys and Great Books for Girls for ages 13-14.