What has made the difference in your life? Why is it as good or as bad as it is? Was your family comfortable, secure, and happy? Did you have good role models? Were you left alone with too much opportunity for trouble? Was your neighborhood dangerous? Did someone care enough to correct you when you messed up? How many chances did you get? Did you have a last chance and not recognize it?
Was the idea that you had a chance for a better life ingrained at an early age? Was an inner quality more important than all of the external factors?
When the author Wes Moore was studying on a scholarship in South Africa, he read in a letter from his mother in Baltimore that another youth from Baltimore named Wes Moore had been arrested for his role in a robbery and murder. Found guilty, the other Wes Moore was sentenced to life in prison, while the author went to Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, served in the army, and became an assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. After the author had to read about the other Wes, he felt compelled to meet him.
That much I knew before I read The Other Wes Moore. What surprised me was how similar their childhoods, neighborhoods, and friends were. I did not expect the line separating them to be so thin. In his chapter narrating parallel periods in their lives, the author recounts how two boys turned into men in periods of great inner city turmoil. Poverty, gangs, and drugs seemed almost inescapable dangers, but the author did get help to get out.
At only 180 pages of actual text, The Other Wes Moore is a quick read well suited for book discussion groups. Moore streamlines his story to stick to his theme and never tells the reader what to think. Our book group spent nearly two lively hours debating the universal issues that Moore's book raises. Having been a best seller, it is available at many libraries.
Moore, Wes. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. Spiegel & Grau, 2010. ISBN 9781588369697.