The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore (Spiegel and Grau, 2014, 233 pages, $25)
Two black boys grow up in the same West Baltimore neighborhood, each in a dysfunctional family with a difficult boyhood, and each gets into trouble with the law – repeatedly and at a young age – influenced by peers, easy money, and males each is close to.
One goes away to military school, joins the Army as an officer and deploys, graduates from Johns Hopkins University, spends a semester abroad in Africa, becomes the first black Rhodes Scholar from Hopkins, interns with the Mayor of Baltimore, spends a year working with Condoleezza Rice, and ends up married and on Wall Street, after speaking at the Democratic Convention.
The other is living a life sentence in a correctional facility in Jessup, Maryland, for his part in killing an off-duty police officer during a jewelry store robbery.
Intriguing stories, both.
I had seen this book in my local bookstore a few times and looked for it in the library but not until the author spoke at my college was I absolutely convinced I had to read this book: I got it that day. I am absolutely convinced that you have to read it, too.
Wes Moore spoke to a full auditorium at my college – his book was chosen as the book of the year, to be read and discussed (and written about) by all freshmen. But Moore spoke very little of the two lives depicted in his book (he did tell us how the title was chosen though – and at the last moment!) and he did not attempt to determine why one boy succeeded and one didn’t. Instead, Moore spoke of spiritual things, inspirational things, attempting to gently goad us to action – the last pages of the book give information on 200 organizations we can involve ourselves with, to inspire the disadvantaged youth of today.
In a Word
Fantastically fascinating story - rather, stories. And very well written. ‘You are there.’ You become each boy.
Jumps from Moore to Moore
Moore jumps from one boy to the other throughout the book, referring to himself in the first person and to the other Wes Moore as Wes. He even meets the other Wes Moore several times in the correctional facility, attempting to piece their stories together – in parallel.
In his visit to my college, the author related how readers might mix up the two boys with the same name. He also stated that it doesn’t make much difference because their backgrounds were the same: poor and fatherless. One gets out and one doesn’t – due to a quirk of fate and a mother who almost gave up, but didn’t.
More Than Just a Good Story – the Chilling Truth
The Other Wes Moore is a fast read, a book you can’t put down. The only drawback I noticed was skipping so much of their lives that might help the reader understand what happened. But perhaps neither Wes Moore nor the reader can understand what made one boy do one thing and the other, the other. Events were recounted in easy readable detail but then time skipped ahead a few years to the middle of another chapter in their lives.
The subtitle of The Other Wes Moore is ‘The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that mine could have been his.’ What more can I say? The interpretation of that subtitle and any action you take after reading Moore’s book is up to you.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes an inspirational movie and even if the author goes on to accomplish more great things – perhaps becoming mayor or governor or higher. Reminiscent of Montel Williams and Dr. Ben Carson who left Chicago’s Cabrini Green’s modern slum for medical school and eventually became head of Surgery at Johns Hopkins, the author Wes Moore is destined for great things. How wonderful if the other Wes Moore could have shared the same destiny.
The answer to why these two black boys from Baltimore turned out so differently lies in the future. And in you.