Monday, April 08, 2013

Amiri and Odette: A Love Story

Thanks to Kimberly Burton for well-done reflection and good suggestions for YA.
Myers, W.D. (2009). Amiri and Odette: A love story. New York: Scholastic Press. 

Book cover.
In the multicultural poetic retelling of the ballet Swan Lake, Amiri and Odette: A Love Story, Walter Dean Myers makes use of a variety of poetic devices to tell the story of a young couple from a housing project who fall in love and must overcome substantial obstacles. Although an engaging and powerful narrative poem, it should be used with mature audiences (approximately eighth grade and up) and would be particularly useful paired with a unit on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet due to similar content.

Like the original ballet version of Swan Lake, the plot of Amiri & Odette is divided into four acts. The brief Act I depicts one of the main characters, Amiri, talking with his mother, who pleads with him to live his life carefully, even offering to host a party so that he may find a suitable girlfriend and avoid the rough life in the projects that she has endured. Act 2 begins with Amiri playing a game of basketball with friends, where he soon notices Odette, the other main character, watching from the sidelines. They soon meet and Odette reveals that she is indebted to work for the antagonist, Big Red, whom it can be inferred is most likely a pimp (hence the need for caution regarding the story's subject matter). In Act 3, Amiri's party occurs, where he confesses his love for Odette. However, Big Red soon appears, throwing their plans askew. As the story ends in Act 4, Amiri and Big Red battle for Odette, with Amiri winning not only Odette's freedom, but their chance for love and a life together as well.

Throughout the poem, Myers incorporates numerous sound patterns to create a sense of rhythm within his writing. He uses an abundance of differing kinds of rhyme. For instance, internal rhyme appears in the line, "In a cluttering, fluttering, flurry of wings...". 
End and exact rhyme surface frequently in such lines as, "Is happy chance alone gladly greeted/ And Big Red so easily defeated?" and, "Yo, Amiri! Come on! It's time to get down!/ Way past the moment to be rid of that frown!" (which also demonstrates the poem's use of colloquialisms). In addition to rhyme, Myers also uses assonanceconsonance, and alliterationFor instance, consonance is demonstrated with the letter s in the lines, "Amiri, my son, I've paid my dues./ Trust me on this one, it's/ choose right or lose." Assonance is used with the letter e in the line, "To nearly stop and tender dreams to start...". Alliteration appears with the letters d and s in such lines as, "Dark clouds drift across a starless sky/ And streak the fat, doom-heavy moon." Repetition also occurs in the lines, "Ball against concrete/ Ball against steel/ Ball against hurting..." further enhancing the rhythm created by the language of the poem.

Besides the appeal of the language, the picture book's illustrations are equally enthralling. Illustrator Javaka Steptoe uses both collage and paint to depict the story. Vibrant hues are consistently used in what appear to be expressionistic illustrations, expressing the emotions felt by the characters within the story. 

Emotion is frequently expressed in the poem's expressionistic illustrations, as
shown in the sorrow of Big Red's defeat in the above painting/collage illustration.
Despite the presence of potentially controversial content, Amiri & Odette is a strong example of powerful and effectively written poetry that could draw in even the most skeptical of students.

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