4.3 12
by Walter Dean Myers

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The Civil War is raging and in a desperate effort to find more recruits, the Union begins a draft - a draft with a difference. The wealthy can pay $300 to be released from their obligation, but the poor must go and fight and die. In New York City, the recently arrived Irish are the hardest hit by the draft and during the long hot days of July the city explodes in a

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The Civil War is raging and in a desperate effort to find more recruits, the Union begins a draft - a draft with a difference. The wealthy can pay $300 to be released from their obligation, but the poor must go and fight and die. In New York City, the recently arrived Irish are the hardest hit by the draft and during the long hot days of July the city explodes in a rash of arson, marches, attacks, and lynchings, with the immigrant Irish taking out their anger on the black inhabitants of the city.
Fourteen-year-old Claire, the daughter of an Irish mother and a black father, has never had to choose between the two sides of the family - she has never had reason to consider her own identity. When she learns that a friend of hers is in danger, she decides to go to her aid, but by venturing out on the streets, she puts her own life at risk.  
Myers's use of the screenplay format allows his readers a birds-eye view of the four hot days in July when New York City burned, using multiple points of view from both sides of the conflict.

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Editorial Reviews

Nate Phillips
The announcement of a military draft in July 1863 did not go over well among poor Irish immigrants in New York City. They believed if the Union won the Civil War, freed blacks from the South would rush to compete for jobs. These Irish immigrants were also angry about a provision of the draft that allowed draftees with means to get out of joining the army. The Irish rioted, attacking blacks, rich "swells," and supporters of the war. The New York Draft Riots lasted from July 13—July 16, 1863. Myers portrays the events of that week in July 1863 through a fictional screenplay focusing on a biracial 15-year-old girl, Claire, her friends, and her family. In connecting to this unfamiliar story, I suggest beginning at the end of the book and reading the timeline of events leading to the riots, along with the author's note, historical photographs, map, and illustrations. Reviewer: Nate Phillips
Publishers Weekly
Written in screenplay format like his Printz Award–winning Monster, Myers's historical novel is set in 1863 New York City during the Civil War draft riots, which began as a protest against conscription and resulted in a clash between the city's Irish and African-American populations. The streets are no longer safe for 15-year-old Claire, whose parents (her father is black, her mother Irish) run the Peacock Inn restaurant/tavern. “I don't see why you have to be a black person or a white person,” Claire says, after being cautioned to stay inside. “Why can't you just be a person?” But when the Colored Orphan Asylum is looted and burned, Claire feels an obligation to help. Myers writes poignant dialogue, laying bare the prejudices of the period, while exploring Claire's emotional transition out of childhood. Stage directions (“CLOSE-UP of MAEVE. Her face is a picture of incredible anger as she screams at the POLICE”) pull readers into both the setting and characters, though the transitions between scenes are occasionally jarring. Readers should find this story moving—a direct result of Myers's empathetic portrayal of those on both sides. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Alissa Lauzon
To the Irish immigrants in New York City, the Emancipation Proclamation is a nightmare because they fear that the freed black slaves in the South will move north and become labor competition. The government adds fuel to the fire in 1863 by instituting a draft from which blacks, who are not considered citizens, are exempt. Tensions explode in New York City in July as the enraged Irish immigrants begin taking their frustrations out in an outburst of violence that cripples the city for days. Myers uses a screenplay format with a huge cast of twenty-eight characters, including the Irish rioters, blacks, Union soldiers trying to quell the riots, and poet Walt Whitman, who makes a brief appearance, to portray this lesser-known historical event. Unfortunately such a large number of characters can be difficult to keep straight. The format does not do justice to the story Myers is attempting to convey, particularly the internal struggle of Claire, the daughter of a black father and Irish mother. Readers are unable to gain much insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters, which makes it difficult to connect with or understand their actions in a meaningful fashion. The story is a quick read that keeps tension high and is perfect for reluctant readers needing to read a historical fiction novel. Although beautifully written, it is missing something, leaving the story feeling incomplete, as if it had too many pieces to be effectively told via screenplay. Reviewer: Alissa Lauzon
VOYA - Mary Boutet
Walter Dean Myers knows how to write a great story. Riot is beautifully written, it has an exciting plot, and a powerful message. Although there were two sides to the war, Myers's characters were real people with reasons on both sides behind the choices they made. It was difficult to decide which side was right, which people were doing the right thing. When I finished reading, I felt like I should love it, but I didn't. Riot is missing something that Myers's other novel Monster delivers. The format of Monster makes that story all the more exciting, but here format detaches me from Claire, her family, and friends. The novel leaves me feeling unsatisfied. It is as if the issue is too big for the space it was given. Reviewer: Mary Boutet, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature - Myrna Dee Marler
The New York Draft Riots that took place in the 1860s as the Irish resisted being drafted to fight in the Civil War and blamed African-Americans for stealing their jobs are a shameful blot on the nation's history. However, Walter Dean Myers, the prolific chronicler of black experience, mines this fertile field with some sympathy for the Irish. Written in the form of a screenplay and fictionalized, Myers examines how those several days of civil disturbance harmed both the Irish and African-Americans while the rich just got richer. Interesting characters populate the screenplay, one a girl who is black but looks white, finds herself searching for identity in a world gone topsy-turvy. She is pulled in several directions and after order is restored, realizes that she will never be able to simply look beyond skin color again. Well written and definitely an interesting look into the New York City of the 1860s with all its various and colorful occupants. Reviewer: Myrna Dee Marler
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Walter Dean Myers brings an obscure piece of history to light in this novel (Egmontusa, 2009). The year is 1863 and the United States is torn apart by the Civil War. The battle at Gettysburg has left citizens horrified, and the survival of the nation is still in doubt. New York City's large immigrant population—mostly Irish—believe that, with the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, their jobs will be taken over by blacks making their way North. When Abraham Lincoln institutes the first draft, allowing the wealthy to pay $300 to escape service, this is the excuse that the city needs to erupt in violence. The story, told from multiple viewpoints in this full-cast production, centers upon Claire, a 15-year-old half Irish, half black girl who is baffled by the hatred that surrounds her. For several days in July, looting, destruction, and retaliation against blacks occur until Federal troops are called in to bring the insurrection to a bloody close. Myers formatted the book as a screenplay similar to his award-winning story Monster (Armistad, 1999; Listening Library, 2007). Listeners may be baffled by the stage directions (i.e., camera pans, cut to, etc.) which distract from the tale. This compelling story of the New York draft riots is more satisfying in print format.—Tricia Melgaard, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK
Kirkus Reviews
In a screenplay format similar to his groundbreaking Monster (2000), Myers tells the story of the Civil War Draft Riots in New York City. Aerial camera shots-zooming in, panning away-take viewers from present-day Manhattan through history, settling in on July 13, 1863, effectively establishing the context for the play. Fifteen-year-old Claire Johnson, daughter of an Irish mother and African-American father, could pass as white but chooses not to, but her identity crisis mirrors the upheaval the city faces as Irish mobs-angry at the federal government's Civil War draft, blacks they see as taking their jobs and wealthy "swells" who can buy their way out of the war-attack blacks in the streets, loot stores and provoke soldiers into firing into crowds. The large cast of characters gives voice to the various players in the historical event, including Walt Whitman, whose words add philosophical depth to the story. Another innovative work by an author constantly stretching the boundaries of what fiction can be, and a natural for readers' theater in the classroom. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)

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Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.72(w) x 8.64(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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