When the phenomenal Walter Dean Myers’s book All the Right Stuff arrived in my mailbox, I had no idea I was about to be schooled in the philosophical idea of the social contract.
I’m used to Myers’s thoughtful but action-packed stories – this one was a beautifully, humanely written contemplation of the systems that can help us or hurt as as we go through life, and the messy combination of injustice and opportunity we all face to varying degrees.
I don’t dig philosophical writing, generally. I’ve read some – mostly old. I’ve enjoyed more contemporary considerations of specific topics, of the sort offered on the radio program Philosophy Talk or in bell hooks’s writing. This book, however, read like a contemporary take on a Greek philosophic text. Myers has characters who literally debate their varying view points, and the youth in the center who is gradually forming his own opinion.
The two opposing views come from Elijiah, who makes homemade soups for seniors at his “Soup Emporium,” and Sly, who has a shiny car, a bodyguard, and a new business venture of his own, also with the espoused aim of helping the Harlem community they all live in. Both men are highly intelligent and gifted speakers who have gathered a following of sorts.
Then, we have the chorus – four of the seniors from Elijiah’s emporium, and four hard luck cases Sly has befriended. With this format, Myers has brought a Greek-style philosophical dialogue into Harlem and brought it to life with modern examples and counterexamples that are perfectly, empathy-inspiring-ly real.
Meanwhile, Paul DuPree is the teen protagonist at the middle of it all, mentoring a teen mom on her basketball game and dealing with the death of his father and his relationship with his mother.
I was spellbound by it, and by the end I was thinking hard (although maybe not as hard as the impressive Paul DuPree). I was thinking about life, and how what this book had to say aligned with “ah-hah” moments I’ve had via psychology, or what I’ve seen as an organizer when I heard people’s stories and we worked together to make something change.
I was also thinking about who I’d give it to. It’s not for everyone, but I came up with a good list of people who I know are searchers and are open to philosophical ideas applied in their daily life.
Oh, and I also have some good soup and stew ideas now, too. 🙂
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.