Review: Walter Dean Myers’ “Darius & Twig” (2013)

Darius & Twig
Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers
My Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two high school students struggle to fulfill their promise of their talents in a Harlem neighborhood where every young person seems destined to be trapped on its streets for life. Darius, who is the older of two brothers in an African-American family, is one of the “smart” kids at school and is also a promising young writer. His best friend, Twig, a Dominican-American, is an up-and-coming cross-country runner. Both of them struggle with defining their emerging young adult identities and claiming the agency necessary to map out their desired futures. Midnight and Tall Boy, two gang-bangers who are also students at Darius and Twig’s high school, represent the future that the latter pair want to avoid. But they must overcome both the naysayers in their own school and community and the internal voices that tell them they are merely dreamers. Soaring above this conflict is the figure of Fury, a peregrine falcon that Darius’ fertile imagination has created. With whom will Darius and Twig identify, Fury or Midnight and Tall Boy?

Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers [ image source: http://www.cbsnews.com ]

This is the plot line of Walter Dean Myers’ Darius & Twig (2013). The book is not the latest young adult (YA) fiction by Myers, but it is his most recent novel-length effort in that genre that also falls into the category of urban realism. Although Myers also published “The Get Over,” a prequel to his blockbuster novel, Monster, in 2013, it is a short story (although it is also a work of YA urban realism).

The story is told by Darius, whose limited narratorial viewpoint heightens the feeling of suspense that builds over the course of the story. Since Darius is a writer, Myers is able to use him to describe the setting, action, and other characters in vivid, realistic, writerly prose that nevertheless has an air of authenticity. Using Darius as the narrator also enables Myers to include a story within the main story, which acts as a metaphor for Darius and Twig’s situation. This story is one that Darius submitted to a literary magazine, whose editor returned it with a request for a rewrite. The publication of the story is the key to Darius’ future, as he learns that he probably will not be able to obtain a scholarship for college on the basis of his grades alone. Yet he finds that he cannot finish the story until he and Twig overcome the internal and external obstacles that stand in their way.

This is a task that they must do together. Thus, Darius & Twig is also a story of a strong friendship, one that not only crosses ethnic and cultural lines, but also celebrates and leverages its diversity. In this novel, Myers shows how adolescents can establish strong senses of identity and agency through healthy social relationships that can mitigate the negative influences in their environment, even when some of these influences are well-meaning, yet limited, adult authority figures.