Men We Reaped was the second book by Ward that I have read in the past three years. I finished Salvage the Bones in September of 2012. I finished the book on a plane between Columbus, Ohio and Chicago. While I read Salvage the Bones, I struggled to make a connection. But on the plane, as I read the final scenes, which climax as Hurricane Katrina blasts the Mississippi coast, I lost my breath and started to cry.
Men We Reaped had a similar impact. From page one, I enjoyed the book, but not the same way other readers did. On Twitter, I read about a woman who didn't put the book down after starting on page one, reading the entire book in 12 hours. I put the book down every night. For me, the book followed the typical two month pattern. Eventually, the book bowled me over, and left an impression I can't shake. The impression is particularly deep because of what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, and the failure of the Grand Jury to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, the unarmed African American teenager.
For me, the book transformed on page 187, when Ward, an underclassmen at a high school where she is one of barely a handful of black students, stands up to a group of male upperclassmen. Out of earshot, the boys had made a joke about lynching black people. Ward, though she didn't hear what they said, knows they are laughing at her.
"What did you say," she asks them.
One of the boys laughed, saying, "you know what we do to your kind."
"No I don't," Ward said.
The group laughed at her.
At this point, Ward knows about what they are joking. But she says to them, "You ain't going to do shit to me."
The demeanor within the group of boys changed. They stopped laughing. They changed their posses, folding their arms, positioning themselves defensively. Ward, hiding fear, said, "you ain't going to do nothing."
Moments later the group of boys moved on down the hall.
As a person with dwarfism, my experience is different from that of a poor African American girl going to school with mostly white people who are wealthy and racist. But as a person who has faced bigotry, I can relate to the experience of facing a hostile crowd and staring it down, picking one person in the crowd and focusing on that person, daring that person to translate their verbal assault into physical action.
|Ward spoke at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago on|
Though our experiences may be different, after page 187 in Men Who Reaped, I felt connected to Ward in a small way. Because of that, Ward has become my favorite writer. Though I am devastated for her because of all that she has lost, I am grateful for what she has been able to share.