Book: Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication date: 2007
Hardcover: 165 pages

Harlem Summer coverSummary: The year is 1925 and 16 year old Mark Purvis is a saxophonist who wants to break into the big time so badly, he can taste it. What he most wants is to play jazz and he thinks that famous musician Fats Waller is the example to follow. So when Fats offers him a somewhat shady opportunity to earn five dollars helping with a moving operation in Jersey, Mark decides that he can’t let go this chance to get to know Fats and hopefully get his foot in the door to fame through music.

What he doesn’t realize is the world of trouble he’ll land in, when Fats’s friend disappears with the moving truck–which belonged to none other than gangster Dutch Schultz. Soon Mark is worrying more about staying alive than about his music career, leading to a hilarious comedy of errors. On top of it all, his Mama made him get a job at The Crisis, a magazine founded by activist and scholar W.E.B. Dubois. There he learns all about the “New Negro” and gets to meet Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Miss Jessie Redmon Fauset, his boss and editor of the magazine, asks Mark questions that make him question where he fits in the happening world of the Harlem Renaissance.

To whom will this appeal?: Hilarious as well as educational, (most of the characters are well-known historical figures from 1920s Harlem), this book will appeal to those seeking a fast-paced story with excellent characterization and humor mixed in with historically accurate detail. A rare type of book — one which blends learning about African American history with the foibles of a funny sweet 16 year old who is coming of age. This book will appeal not only to teens but also to middle grade students as well as adults.