41 pages 1 hour read

Jerry Craft

Class Act

Fiction | Graphic Novel/Book | Middle Grade | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Class Act is a middle-grade realistic-fiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Jerry Craft and first published in 2020. It is the second part of the New Kid series, the first of which was the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal. Craft’s graphic novels focus on issues of racism, class, and growing up in America.

This guide utilizes the first edition of the graphic novel (2020).

Plot Summary

Class Act opens as a new school year begins in the Bronx; Jordan, Drew, and Liam are entering eighth grade at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School (RAD). Jordan narrates the novel but frames his friend Drew as its protagonist; Jordan himself becomes the deuteragonist (the second most important character). Jordan is Black, but his skin is lighter than other Black people he knows; this is a source of insecurity for him. Drew is also Black, and their friend Liam is white. Liam comes from an extremely rich household, but his parents are emotionally and physically distant. Jordan comes from a modest but stable family, and Drew lives with his grandmother in Co-Op City. Jordan walks to school with his father, feeling as if he has not grown over the summer at all. He does not even want to draw comics, something he loves, because he sees it as childish.

The novel’s central theme is How Racism Shapes the Daily Lives of Black Children in America. The first instance of racial stereotyping occurs when the boys arrive at school and a girl named Ashley, who has a crush on Drew, starts touching his hair. He repeatedly asks her to stop, but she does not listen. Next, Drew encounters Andy, a boy he got into a fight with the year before. He and Andy almost start fighting again, but a teacher named Mr. Roche intervenes and reminds them of the school’s anti-bullying policy. Four weeks later at lunch, Andy suggests that everyone dresses up as the Avengers for Halloween, typecasting each student based on their race.

Jordan draws comics which serve as observations of the world around him, and in one such comic, he illustrates the differences between how the world views and treats him, a boy with lighter skin, compared to Drew, who has darker skin. He knows he and Drew are alike, but the world constantly wants to separate them based on their skin. For Halloween, Andy dyes his skin green to look like the Hulk. His brother swaps the dye for permanent ink, and Andy is stuck looking green for four weeks. The other students make fun of him, and Andy sees what it is like to be mocked for the color of his skin. Drew feels gratified to see Andy suffering this way, believing it is just what he needs to learn his lesson.

Jordan wants to be an artist and transfer to an art school for high school. His father supports him, but his mother wants him to stay at RAD, as it is prestigious. Drew reassures his best friend, telling him that he should follow his dreams and Stay True to Himself. Later, Mr. Roche asks Drew and another Black student to be chaperones for a group of students coming to visit from the inner-city. Drew thinks that Jordan would be a better choice but realizes that Mr. Roche does not view Jordan as Black. When the students arrive for the visit, Mr. Roche finds it impossible to pronounce their simple-to-pronounce names and patronizes them. He takes them on a tour of the school, which only serves to illustrate how disadvantaged they are in comparison. They have boxes of books instead of a library, and they marvel at the quality of food in the cafeteria. The students grow sick of having privilege shoved in their faces and decide to run back to their own neighborhood. Mr. Roche feels he has failed, and Drew begins to feel invisible. He does not relate to the students at his current school, and students from other schools see him as a privileged outsider. He decides to alleviate his pain by joining a group of Black students for lunch the next day.

Liam invites Jordan and Drew over for a sleepover around Thanksgiving. Jordan’s father gives the two boys a ride to Liam’s house, and on the way, they are stopped by a police officer. Jordan’s father panics, uncertain why he is being stopped. He tells Jordan and Drew to drop everything in their hands and put them up, and to stay quiet. The police officer is friendly and tells Jordan’s father about a back light that has gone out. Everyone’s panic subsides, but the moment is a small window into what Black people often deal with when interacting with police.

Drew and Jordan are dropped off at Liam’s house, and Drew is shocked at the size and stature of it. The house is actually a mansion, and Liam has both a maid and a butler. His mother does not work, and his father is away on business. Liam also has his own indoor heated pool, which Drew avoids because he does not know how to swim. Drew also dislikes the fancy food that Liam’s family serves. He notices that Liam’s butler, Mr. Pierre, is Black, and wonders how the latter can work for such a rich family. The boys play video games and everything seems fine, but on the way home the next day (driven by Mr. Pierre), Drew confesses to Jordan that he felt uncomfortable at Liam’s place. He asks Mr. Pierre how he manages to work for a privileged family with his own family far away in Haiti; Mr. Pierre answers that he does so out of necessity. He also encourages Drew not to judge Liam based on his wealth. After Drew is dropped off at home, some of his old neighborhood friends give him a hard time for going to RAD and becoming privileged. Drew realizes he is being treated the same way he treated Liam and continues to feel as if he does not fit in anywhere.

The boys return to school, and Jordan encourages Drew to talk to Liam and explain his feelings. Drew is not ready to do so; he is confused about how to be friends with someone who is rich, and whether or not Liam can truly understand him. He consults a student named Alexandra, who seems comfortable with herself. He wants to know how he can be himself in a world that demands he always put on an act, and she tells him that he needs to like himself for others to like him. A few weeks later, the school holds an assembly and announces their plan to be more diverse and inclusive. They plan to educate several staff in diversity training, include new books specifically picked out by ethnically diverse students, and implement a program called “SOCK” (Students of Color Konnect). SOCK will be run by a clueless Mr. Roche, who is eager to learn and grow. Along with a group of ethnically diverse students, they discuss current issues and ways to improve the school’s inclusiveness.

To bridge the gap between Drew and Liam, Jordan invites them to his house for the day so Liam can experience life in the inner-city. Liam agrees, and the boys spend the day with Jordan’s parents, playing basketball, eating delicious food, and meeting Jordan’s many neighborhood friends. Liam enjoyed himself, and he and Drew come to an understanding. They compliment Jordan on his idea to help them make up, and the latter experiences a sudden moment of relief. He realizes he is maturing, despite thinking he wasn’t. He decides to become a cartoonist and stay true to himself. Drew decides to show Liam his apartment and introduces him to his grandmother, and Jordan accepts himself as he is, imperfections and all. Together, the three boys create a bond that serves as another of the novel’s themes: Unity as a Defense Against Prejudice.

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