Mendel by Damone Bester is a recommended read #yalit #fiction #action #comingofage #bookboost
YA, Fiction, Action-Drama
The Story Plant
Mendel is a coming-of-age story about a senior at Chicago's legendary Mendel High who must learn how to forgive as he navigates life without his recently deceased mother. Things come to a head when the teen accidentally discovers that his mother’s dreams of becoming a collegiate track star were derailed due to getting pregnant with him. To honor his mother, he joins Mendel’s track team and excels, but before he can cash in on any scholarship offers, his father’s thuggish past catches up with them when a gun toting nemesis comes seeking revenge. The teen must decide between saving his own life or sacrificing it all to save his estranged father.
A Brief History
One of the things I loved about Mendel was they didn’t have the same old classes that every other school had: English 101, Intermediate Algebra, Geography. Boring! We had classes like Life Skills, the public school’s version of Home Economics. Life Skills was taught by Brother Tyler. In that class we learned how to balance a check book, create a budget, shop for groceries; even change a tire.
In Mrs. Epps class, My Own Biz, for juniors and seniors, we learned how to set up a business plan, learned whether to become a sole proprietor or an LLC, learned how to invest in Real Estate and how to gauge if a business would turn a profit or fold in the first two years.
But my all-time favorite class was Morality & Ethics, taught, oddly enough by Mrs. Morales. Mrs. Morales was a gorgeous, fiery Latina. My boys and I loved Morality & Ethics class because we could argue at the top of our lungs when debating our point.
The way Mrs. Morales’ class worked was she would introduce a topic at the beginning of class. Then we had ten minutes to come up with our arguments as to why the topic was or was not morally ethical and we’d discuss the topic for the majority of the class. During the last five to ten minutes, Mrs. Morales would give her supposition of the topic. It was great. Sometimes she would break us up into teams, other times, she’d have us fend for ourselves, individually.
But it was Mid-Terms that meant we had to write out our answers in essay form. I had already zipped through my exam and was daydreaming about how horrible Christmas Break was going to be when the school bell rudely interrupted.
I whipped my head around. A parade of fellow classmates passed my desk donning their mandatory private school dress code attire. The girls in their white, pink or pastel blue blouses with black or gray skirts. Guys with our gray, black or navy-blue slacks and cardigans along with white or pastel button-down shirts. We were already looked at a bit differently by our public-school friends for going to private school. So, most of us felt that we were branded by having to wear uniforms on top of it.
Since Mendel’s inception, we’ve been an all boy’s school. Yet, due to increasing financial woes, we turned co-ed my senior year to expand admissions which has been a pleasant experience thus far.
The hallways suddenly smelled fresh and “perfumy.”
Guys didn’t beef as much anymore because they wanted to show how popular and, cool they were. The girls at Mendel were attracted to a smidgen of “bad boy.” No one really wanted an outright hoodlum.
And, for some reason, even most of the teachers seemed nicer once the girls arrived.
We descended upon Mrs. Morales desk like a gaggle of geese being fed Ritz crackers. I was last in line to hand in my exam. I placed my test on the desk and turned to leave. Mrs. Morales’ accented shriek stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked back over my shoulder.
Mrs. Morales waved me over.
I huffed out a sigh and obeyed her command. Her eyes peered at me over the top of her wire rimmed glasses as I approached. She waited patiently for the last student to exit.
“Thought about what we discussed?”
“Some,” I answered respectfully unenthused.
“I-I don’t know.”
Mrs. Morales sighed heavily and leaned back in her chair, “See the 9:00 News last night?”
“There was a student, graduated from Julian last year,” she sat up again. “He wasn’t working. Didn’t go to college. Just hanging around taking the year to decide what he wanted to do with his life, family says. He was shot in the head yesterday, died instantly. You know why?”
“Any number of reasons. Owed somebody money, disrespected someone, um…”
“No. He didn’t have a plan. You only have one Semester left BJ, what’s your plan?”
“I don’t know Mrs. Morales.”
“Who has the money for that?”
“Get a scholarship.”
“A scholarship? Doing what?”
“I don’t care. Anything Brandon.”
Mrs. Morales took a deep breath turning her head slightly. She removed her glasses. Looking up at me genuinely, calmly, she said, “You need to come up with a plan for your life BJ, or you’ll be the next person shot ‘for any number of reasons.’ Comprende?”
“Now, go on, you don’t want to be late picking up Monica.”
Even though she dismissed me, I knew she wasn’t finished with this discussion by a long shot.
“Have a good Christmas,” I said softly.
“Mm-Hmm, you too,” Mrs. Morales replied scooping up the test papers. I could tell by the way she banged the exams on the desk straightening them into a pile she was slightly annoyed with me. I wish I cared more than I did. Truth was, I didn’t know what the future held for me. I didn’t care whether I lived or died.
Damone Bester was born and raised on Chicago’s Southside. He is an author, poet, aspiring screenwriter, and voiceover artist. He has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Illinois State University. Damone currently lives in the Twin Cities area.
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