Jesse Givens is going through a horrible breakup. We're not talking about the kind where you eat a pint of ice cream and get on with it—this break-up is of the earth-shattering, lay-in-bed-all-day-wondering-what-went-wrong variety. And no, this isn't about shattered romance. What Jesse is going through is much more serious: the dreaded Friend Breakup.
See, Jesse and Rise are brothers from another mother. Or at least they were until recently, when Rise up and decided that his destiny was to become an evil crime lord. To Jesse, it seems like one day they were reading comics and the next Rise was selling cocaine—from where he's sitting, everything fell apart super quickly. And because of this, Autobiography of My Dead Brother is kind of a mystery: Jesse desperately wants to understand why and how he lost his best friend. He thinks if he can crack the case, he'll somehow be able to get Rise back.
In an interesting twist, Autobiography of My Dead Brother—which was published in 2005—is a father-and-son collaboration between novelist Walter Dean Myers and his son, Christopher, who's an illustrator. Together, they bring to life the hopes and fears of fifteen-year-old Jesse, a kid just trying to stay alive in a violent neighborhood in New York City. Instead of reading like an ordinary chapter book, Autobiography reads like Jesse's notebook, filled with sketches and comics of life as he sees it.
Named both a National Book Award finalist and Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association, the novel comes highly recommended by fancy literary sorts. That said, the drawings and comics make the heavy themes go down a little more easily. Which is good, because friend break-ups are truly, well, heartbreaking.
Best friends aren't always forever, and this goes double for the ones you make in childhood. It's not so weird when you really think about it: For the most part, little kids all enjoy the same little kid stuff, but as you get older, your interests become more specific. The person who you colored with as a toddler isn't necessarily the guy you'll want to catch a movie with more than a decade later, you know?
In Autobiography of My Dead Brother, Jesse and Rise, who have been besties practically since birth, are drifting apart. The reason behind this rift is super specific. Rise wants to pursue a life of crime. Jesse? Not so much. But the pain and uncertainty that Jesse feels as he mourns the loss of the friendship is universal. Friends get into arguments, or lose touch, or just plain stop hanging out all the time and for all sorts of reasons. And while this can be difficult, it's also a normal part of growing up.
Jesse spends much of the book looking for a way to magically transform his friend into someone he wants to spend time with. Eventually, though, he figures out a major life lesson: Jesse has to accept Rise for who he is—and unfortunately, that's a person who Jesse doesn't like anymore. It's a huge bummer, but the truth is you can't change other people. What you can do is learn to let them go.
Walter Dean Myers's Website
Here it is, folks: the author's website. Enjoy your visit to the land of all things Walter Dean Myers.
Christopher Myers's Deets
Here's the illustrator's bio, courtesy of his publisher. He's done some pretty fancy stuff during his career.
The Author Writes About His Life as a Teen
In 2005, the year the book was released, Myers wrote a personal piece for The New York Times about his life when he was fifteen, the same age as Jesse in Autobiography of My Dear Brother.
The Illustrator's Thoughts on Children's Literature
Christopher Myers, the illustrator, wrote a piece for The New York Times about the lack of diversity in children's literature. What do you think Jesse would think of this?
Walter Dean Myers Fight for Literacy
The author was a huge advocate for literacy before he died in 2014. Here's a segment on that work that appeared on PBS NewsHour.
The Author and the Illustrator
Here's the author, Walter Dean Myers, with his son and collaborator, Christopher Myers, talking about another book that they collaborated on. Go team.
Listen to an excerpt from the Autobiography of My Dead Brother audiobook.
The author and the illustrator, who are father and son, recorded a family memory for StoryCorps. Aw…
Meet the Author
Here he is, the one and only Walter Dean Myers.
Here's a picture of the father-son author and illustrator team.