Down by Mark Adam Kaplan
Genre: Young-Adult, Urban
Published: March 25th 2012 by Bewrite Books
DOWN chronicles Leon Mendoza as he struggles to get his life back together before his upcoming court date. With his father in prison, and his mother in deep depression, Leon is on his own to handle the fallout from his arrest. His homeboys worry that he’ll testify against them, his teachers have little or no pity for his situation, and his mother buries herself in her room all day, or watches novellas, completely closing him out.
But there is hope. A caring teacher, a proactive Probation Officer, a part-time job at a Chinese restaurant, and the attention of a beautiful girl fight to balance out the hand that Heaven dealt Leon.
Would it be enough to help him avoid his father’s fate? It all comes down to one terrible night, when all of Leon’s worlds collide in an explosion that threatens to take him DOWN.
Well, I didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading this. It was much shorter than I’d expected actually—but I probably should have actually looked to see. Nevertheless it was an interesting read and one that kept me absorbed for much of the read. However, the ending stunned me. I though it was very realistic and gritty and whilst I tend to be a sucker for a happily ever after and for everything unrealistic, this book is pure realism that I thought was brilliant!
Another aspect of this book that I really loved was that it was told from the perspective of a young teenage boy. I find that young-adult fiction tends to be dominated by female protagonists with a love interest and this was refreshing. It was a male telling his story about the trouble of the streets with the main focus of the plot being on his struggle to be do the right thing by himself and his family or his gang. However you can imagine that being in a teenage boys mind things did tend to focus on the female anatomy a little.
“Before I knew it, I traced the outline of her ass, the stool, the long tangles of her hair …”
Personally I thought at 15 this boy was a little young, but I suppose that is the male mind!Another point being that since the story is in first perspective, the language and linguistics of the boy are very much from the “urban” world and he’s not grammatically correct and his use of calling people a “foo’” really seemed to grate on my nerves. However, it created the realistic setting of the novel. We really delve into society on a lower level and I found it interesting while irritating to my inner grammar freak.
Not only that, but Kaplan recreated the real world and the sufferings of problems in society and my heart was really out there for Leon. I just wanted to drag him away from it all and when he was so thrilled over little things like toothpaste and food it was so heart breaking.
“It had been so long since I had been to school, I forgot about the food. But I didn’t forget the taste. First time I ate it was like I never stopped.”
This really brought out the urban-ness of the genre out for me. Kaplan sure didn’t shy away from the truth of society, the full out gang presence and the threats, the beatings, weapons and violence. We had a full blown gang war with blood splattered, brains blown, knives stabbed into bodies and if you’re squeamish, this probably isn’t a book for you.
A family on the edge of poverty with the young protagonist Leon falling into a world of prisons, trouble and a never ending problems. This is the worlds realistic problems at the heart of fiction! Leon struggles the whole way through the novel with sticking to the morals of other people and finding himself. This certainly is a fiction that follows the path of growing up and all the trials and tribulations a teen can face. I liked that he eventually seemed to find himself with the help of Old Chong and stood for who he was and not what other people wanted because that could be a problem. However by the end of the novel I wanted to scream too and beat at Leon with a bat for his decisions in life.
Leon happens to have a love interest too. She’s named Yvonne and there seems to be quite a lot of hype about her and to be truthful, I didn’t really like her. Especially when she said this.
“Well, even thought I am perfect, sometimes I don’t get everything done. But I think that just makes me a little more perfect.”
Really? Who says that! Otherwise I really liked Leon as a character, but I didn’t ever connect with Yvonne. Whilst I thought her intentions for Leon being good were good and noble, she just grated on my nerves. She never really did anything and told us she had “problems” but we never learnt more. It would have been nice to see more from Yvonne as a strong character and rather less of her being a weakling.
Old Chong was pretty brilliant as a character. He was the wise, old Chinese man and had a strong will and never allowed Leon to push him over like he seemed on the verge of many times. Old Chong I could definitely imagine being a real person and he had a rather sad tale. It was a shame his story was never really concluded.
Overall I enjoyed reading this, found it short and gripping. Kaplan delved into the world and workings of gang culture with all their loyalty. Leon was a troubled and gritty male protagonist who you really become immersed in as a character. I felt like we ended too soon and not with quite enough resolve of all the questions that floated in my head. Otherwise, I’d take a look at this because it’s certainly different.
More stalking available here:
Let me know what you think!