The Young Landlords
is a work of juvenile fiction by American author Walter Dean Myers, published in 1979. Though Myers’ stories are usually filled with more sobering issues, The Young Landlords
veers slightly from the norm. On the surface, it’s about a group of young teenagers who buy a tenement house and attempt to operate the business for profit. The narrative is told from a first-person perspective through the main character, Paul Williams. Myer’s keen observation of inner-city woes is just as prevalent as ever, as are the colloquial patterns of speech he uses to make his characters come alive. The narrative addresses themes of adolescence, growing up, hope, despair, work ethic, and responsibility, among others.
The Stratford Arms apartment building is considered a subpar place to live, especially by those who live there. Some of the colorful inhabitants include Mrs. Brown, a woman who randomly grieves for a man (Jack Johnson) who dies several times a month; Petey Darden, a man who bucks the rules by making illegal alcohol in a downstairs unit; and Askia Ben Kenobi, a tenant who practices karate loudly. But the kids who live in the Arms want to do good by their neighbors, and when the opportunity arises to do so, they jump on it.
Paul Williams, along with his friends—they are known as the Action Group—manage to buy The Stratford Arms from its slum-lord owner for a single dollar. The shady owner would rather dump the property, which he views as a headache, than make changes or address the tenants’ complaints. The teens create a grand plan to not only turn a profit on the building over the summer, but to help those in need. The majority of the novel addresses the often comical results of this purchase, including the ramifications of the teens’ well-meaning endeavors.
In time, the teens find that they’re in way over their heads. A volunteer accountant helps the do-gooders do the math on their situation, and after talking with him, they realize just how much it takes to not only keep a business running, but to address even the most mundane complaints. One example takes place when, while attempting to fix a clogged toilet, the person fixing it gets locked in the bathroom. The teens must also try and figure out the person or persons stealing hi-fi equipment. Some of the other problems/crises faced by the new business owners include their friend Chris getting arrested for stealing stereos; Gloria becoming curious about boys and kissing; and Dean’s dog attacking—and biting—fire hydrants. Amid all the madness, the young landlords try to stave off their financial woes by holding rent and block parties to bring in extra money. By the end of the narrative, Paul comes to the mature realization that, at least for now, it’s easier to protest without direct involvement in a situation.
Walter Dean Myers is the author of several award-winning books for young adults. He won the prestigious Coretta Scott King Award five times, with The Young Landlords
garnering one of the awards. Some of his other notable awards include the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1994, two runner-up nominations for the Newbery Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, and a U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2010. He wrote more than one hundred books, including picture books and nonfiction. Some of his most popular titles include Sunrise over Fallujah, Fallen Angels, Scorpions, Monster,
and Bad Boys.
Walter Dean Myers’ life was filled with advocacy for African American youth, advocacy that lived and breathed in the pages of his works. Myers was born in 1937 and died in 2014. His legacy remains strong, especially in the popularity of his works.