Bad Boy: A Memoir Summary

Walter Dean Myers

Bad Boy: A Memoir

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Bad Boy: A Memoir Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Bad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers.

Bad Boy: A Memoir is a 2001 book by American author Walter Dean Myers. Myers produced more than one hundred books during his career and is best known for his young adult canon, notably 1988’s Fallen Angels which revolves around the Vietnam War and is one of the most challenged books in the United States due to graphic language and descriptions. Myers was the United States National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in 2012 and 2013.

Myers begins Bad Boy by offering information that he gathered through official documents, family photographs, and other records. He had an uncle who was a slave on a Virginia plantation, and a twice-married father, among other people he references. His family ultimately moved to Harlem in New York City. Myers’ earliest memories are set in Harlem. He recalls his mother cleaning other people’s apartments, but when he begins to get into mischief she resolves to stay at home to keep a closer watch on him. The author looks at his mother, their conversations, and her teaching him to read, as well as the stories she told him with great love and admiration.

When he begins telling of his school years, he recalls he recalls having a speech impediment which led to him being ridiculed by other students and his getting into fights in retaliation. Punishments ranged from trips to the principal’s office to being slapped by teachers and placed in a closet. More significant to Myers was the punishments he faced at home as a result of getting into trouble in school. Myers remembers being inspired by a teacher, Mrs. Conway, by whom he had originally been punished for reading a comic book. She replaced it with a book of Norwegian fairy tales which ignited his interest in reading. The teacher also began to recognize Myers’ poetry and read his work at school.

By fourth grade he was involved in a fight and was threatened with reform school. The next year, the summer of 1947, became an exciting time for Myers as black players had finally been accepted by major league baseball, the armed forces were on the verge of being integrated, and there were rumblings in the news that blacks were soon to be awarded equal status in society. Myers also talks about the types of discipline that were and were not acceptable at the time. He continued to be inspired by Mrs. Conway, and a poem of his was published by the school magazine.

Speaking about his friends, Myers sees two groups as he looks back on that were separated by whether or not they played baseball. Myers was an active baseball player which helped him fit in. He tended to keep his love of reading to himself, as he also did with his poetry writing and interest in dancing. Myers meets another teacher who helps him as his school career continues. Mr. Lasher tells him that he will not have any fighting take place for any reason. He further tells Myers that his passion for reading coupled with his high test scores serve to make him special. At twelve years old, he learns that his Uncle Lee was killed. This sends his father into a state of depression that lasts a year. Myers is placed in an advanced class at school and finds himself feeling isolated. He becomes uncomfortable when slavery is taught in his American history class.

Myers had not yet thought about the connection between the books that he liked to read and the writers who produced them. The writers that students were exposed to in school had little connection to the world that Myers was a part of. As another year unfolds, Myers finds himself wanting to view the world from a writer’s perspective. He wants to write like the great poets Byron and Shelley but does not know how to access such a viewpoint. He starts to write about the people and places in his own New York neighborhood and has his first realization of how different blacks and white are from each other. By the 1950s, he is aware that job opportunities and places in higher education are quite limited for blacks. His speech impediment rules out some employment opportunities, and while he has a talent for creative writing, he does not know anyone that makes a living from it. Myers continues to offer examples that show his thoughts about, and connections to, writing, jsut as he writes of the obstacles he faces on his journey towards literary success.

His journey ends successfully as Publishers Weekly points out, “Throughout the volume, Myers candidly examines the complexities of being black in America, from his first exposure to slavery in a seventh grade American history class, to the painful realization in adolescence that his blond, blue-eyed best friend is invited to parties where Walter is not welcome. Other chapters sometimes feel haphazard (a foreshadowing of Walter’s discovery that his father is illiterate, for example, undercuts a powerful later scene that explores this more fully). What emerges is a clear sense of how one young man’s gifts separate him from his peers, causing him to stir up trouble in order to belong. Fortunately, this bad boy turned out to be a fine writer.”