Army veteran, scholar, and author Wes Moore understood that his life could have taken a very different direction than it ultimately did. A Rhodes Scholar who served in Afghanistan and succeeded in the world of business, Moore was extremely fortunate that his single-parent mother and grandparents all took an active interest—indeed, committed themselves to—Moore’s academic, social, and cultural wellbeing.
The young Wes could have easily grown up a victim of low expectations, surviving, hopefully, the ghetto environment to which his early experiences in petty crime could have condemned him for life. Such was not the case, however, precisely because his mother was determined that he grow up to be a responsible, mature adult: she enrolled her son in a military school to ensure that he received the discipline he required while surrounded by better role models than those to which he would otherwise be exposed.
The Other Wes Moore is the author’s description of that road not taken: in this case, the path to poverty, crime, imprisonment, death. Positing two parallel lives, Moore meticulously takes the reader down the road which he himself could have taken but for proper parenting and supervision.
In chapter 2 of The Other Wes Moore, titled “In Search of Home: 1984,” the author’s omniscient narrator describes the now-teenaged Tony, eight-year-old fictional Wes’s older brother, taking the wrong path. Tony, decreasingly attentive to his younger brother’s need for daily guidance while their mother is away, has gravitated to the streets, spending most of his time in the drug- and violence-filled slums of Baltimore. It is in this chapter that the author provides the essential description of Tony’s demeanor and the dire consequences that likely lie ahead:
There’s a term in the hood for a face like Tony’s, that cold, frozen stare. The ice grille. It’s a great phrase. A look of blank hostility that masks two intense feelings—the fire evoked by grille (which is also slang for face), and the cold of the ice. But the tough façade is just a way to hide a deeper pain or depression that kids don’t know how to deal with. A bottomless chasm of insecurity and self-doubt that gnaws at them.
Tony has taken the wrong road to adulthood, the road that leads to imprisonment or an early, violent death. He clearly loves his younger brother and desperately wants Wes to stay on the correct path, but the pull of the streets in such a hopeless environment is too strong for too many, and Tony is seemingly destined for the most negative scenario available. The moniker “the ice grille” suggests a person hardened by life in the ghetto and certain to end up in prison or dead in the streets of the brutal Baltimore slums. It suggests somebody who no longer cares. It also, as the author suggests, serves as a mechanism for those who know better but who fear for themselves and believe themselves unable to escape the hopelessness to which they believe they are condemned.
Wes Moore, the author and military veteran, was at least partially inspired to write this book by a fascinating coincidence. As he described in the introduction to The Other Wes Moore, at almost the precise moment that he was the subject of a glowing article in the Baltimore Sun, a story was playing out in the newspaper about another Wes Moore, a young man caught up the ghetto life from which the author was successfully saved. The other Wes Moore was certain to be sentenced to death or, at a minimum, life in prison for the murder of an off-duty police officer following an armed robbery carried out by the other Wes and the other Wes’s older brother. As Wes Moore the success story noted in this introduction,
The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his. Our stories are obviously specific to our two lives, but I hope they will illuminate the crucial inflection points in every life, the sudden moments of decision where our paths diverge and our fates are sealed. It’s unsettling to know how little separates each of us from another life altogether.