Devaney’s biography of a contemporary hero draws attention to the hardships under which some American children, particularly minorities, are being reared. At the same time, the author sends a powerful message that individuals have some control over their own destinies. Sports, and outstanding achievements in them, continue to be a theme of interest to a large audience. Although the book is written primarily for teenage readers, it is presented in a style and in language that can be comprehended by many younger children, as indicated by the book’s frequent inclusion in elementary-school library collections.
Devaney takes advantage of the context of Jackson’s life to stress such clichéd but important lessons as “fight the good fight,” “dare to be different,” and, above all, “to thine own self be true.” The more subtle context of the biography is that sports can be brutal: Fans can be fickle and excruciatingly cruel, and glory on the playing field can be short lived.
Increasingly, schools are recognizing the importance of children having heroes like themselves with whom they can identify. In the past, biographical accounts of successful, contributing, and outstanding members of minority groups were rare. This book is one of many seeking to fill this gap for young African-American readers, as well as inspiring readers of all races.