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The Freedom Writers Diary: Book Review

By Kam Williams

The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing To Change Themselves and the World around Them
by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell
Broadway Books
Paperback, 320 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 0767924908

"It is not what happens to us that matters, but how we deal with it - and the Freedom Writers are a perfect example. They could have chosen to fight racism with racism, hate with hate, pain with pain. But they did not. If we all do what the Freedom Writers have done, and choose to deal with inhumane situations in a humane way, we can turn the world around and create positive lessons for ourselves and from others."
- Excerpted from The Foreword by Zlata Filipovic, survivor of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia's civil war


Erin Gruwell
Photo: Freedom Writers

First published in 1999, the recently re-released The Freedom Writers Diary was the result of high school teacher Erin Gruwell's efforts to inspire her special-ed students to overcome any obstacles standing between them and their dreams. During the very first year of her tenure at Wilson High in Long Beach, California, Erin abandoned the orthodox approach suggested for her at-risk freshmen, and instead raised the bar by establishing high expectations for each and every one of them.

She did this despite the fact that most came from dysfunctional families stuck in an impoverished neighborhood. But eventually all 150 of her students graduated and went on to college. How did Gruwell achieve this enviable feat? By having them read two books, namely, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and A Child's Life by Zlata Filipovic, both gut-wrenching diaries kept by kids trapped in the most dire of circumstances.

In this way, Gruwell's ghetto-bound teens could see that, as bad as their predicaments might appear, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. And she had them keep journals about the challenges in their own lives, and The Freedom Writers Diary is comprised of an assortment of touching entries by both the teacher and her talented students.

freedom writers
Six of the 150 Freedom Writers
Photo: Freedom Writers

Is the book better than film? I'd say "Yes," but isn't that always the case? The movie was excellent, as is the text, so might I suggest this moving group memoir as a companion piece which only further augments an already satisfying cinematic experience.

See Also: Teacher Uses Holocaust to Inspire Inner-City Kids to Overcome the Odds

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