Friday, April 24, 2009

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?: From the Projects to Prep School by Charlise Lyles

One of the benefits of having a book review blog is getting an occasional free book. I look at each one that shows up in my mailbox, but, being under no obligation, I do not read and review every one. With plenty to read already, an unsolicited book has to somehow "speak to me" to get my attention. Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?: From the Projects to Prep School by Charlise Lyles succeeded. I enjoy coming-of-age memoirs and am very interested in civil rights stories.

Lyles new book is actually an old book rewritten. She published a first edition in 1994. In it she told about growing up in a dangerous public housing project in Cleveland, her up-and-down experiences in public school, and her search for her errant father. In the new edition she revised the story of her early experiences and added a section about her three years in Hawken School, an exclusive prep school in the Cleveland suburbs. I can hardly imagine the book without the final section, which completes her adolescence story and shows why she successfully left poverty behind her.

I like how Lyles begins the book at the point when her life is about to change dramatically. She has won a scholarship to attend Hawken School. She is not totally sure that she should accept because she will leave the known dangers of the African-American projects for the unknown dangers of the highly competitive and mostly white prep school. She seeks to find her missing father 1) to show him that she has done quite well without him, 2) to see if he is really as bad as her mother and older sister contend, and 3) to get a sign from him that she is doing the right thing. She finds him amid his piles of books in a dark and dreary apartment.

Lyles then goes back in time to describe her elementary and middle school years, showing how unlikely a candidate for prep school she was. She had even repeated the third grade. Readers also learn why she felt compelled to leave her Black Power stronghold and accept the scholarship. The final section recounts the difficulties and success of her Hawken School years.

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? arrived at just the right time. My Library is featuring coming-of-age stories in our adult summer reading program. Lyles memoir of Cleveland in the 1960s and 1970s will be an appealing title to add to the display and booklist. I recommend it to other public libraries.

Lyles, Charlise. Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?: From the Projects to Prep School. Gray & Company, 2008. ISBN 9781598510416

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