(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

At the age of fifteen, Luther T. Farrell helps his mother, known as Sarge, run a real estate empire in the ghetto of Flint, Michigan. His father is dead, and Luther has been raised by his mother, who left teaching to take a lucrative job on the Buick assembly line in Flint. She has since branched out into shady business operations, which she is grooming her only son to run. Luther has heard stories concerning his mother: The rental properties and group homes she owns barely meet city codes; she uses the residents in her homes to gouge the Social Security system; most disturbing, she runs a loan shark operation and even uses an intimidating second-in-command, Darnell Dixon, as muscle.

Luther, meanwhile, has his own ambitions: He wants to study philosophy at Harvard University. In return for the hours of work Luther has put in, Sarge has been putting aside an education fund, now worth more than ninety thousand dollars. That money is Luther’s ticket out of Flint. His only friend, the goofy Sparky, lacking such resources, schemes to get out of Flint by suing someone rich.

Luther discovers a stash of pills in the mattress of one of his mother’s tenants. He suspects the tenant, Chester X. Stockard, is hoarding the pills to use to commit suicide. The encounter, though, leads the two to become friends. Chester tells Luther bluntly that his mother is using him and will never let him go. Chester advises Luther to move with him to Florida. Luther...

(The entire section is 552 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

“Christopher Paul Curtis.” Contemporary Authors Series: New Revised Series. Vol. 119. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 2003. Analyzes Curtis’s early life and his first two works. Cites as themes the importance of self-respect, the need to accept life as it is, and the validation the self receives from a loving family. Positions Curtis as one of the few writers specifically interested in African American young adult fiction and the importance of offering that audience a literature of hope.

Curtis, Christopher Paul. “Christopher Paul Curtis Goes to Powell’s.” Interview by Dave Weich. Extensive interview that reviews Curtis’s place in young adult fiction (specifically his thematic interest in identity and family) and his literary influences. Emphasizes that his works are not exhaustively defined by an African American sensibility.

Gaines, Ann G. Christopher Paul Curtis. Hockessin, Del.: Mitchell Lane, 2001. Brief biography geared toward a young adult audience that stresses Curtis’s decision to leave work on the assembly line to pursue writing. In the hands of one of the most prolific writers of young adult nonfiction, Curtis’s biography becomes an inspirational tale about believing in dreams.

Lamb, Wendy. “Christopher Paul Curtis.” The Horn Book Magazine, July/August, 2000. Offers a helpful overview of Curtis’s life, particularly the long road to his first publication, which was not released until he was forty. Traces the themes of childhood and maturation and Curtis’s juxtaposition of comedy with social realism.

Tarbox, Gwen. “Christopher Paul Curtis.” In St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers. 2d ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999. Focuses on Curtis’s first novel and its interest in the Civil Rights era. Stresses his willingness to introduce mature themes such as racism, violence, and political hypocrisy and to confront cultural problems in young adult fiction. Cites Curtis’s street-smart realism, his believable characters, and his humor.