Book Review: The Freedom Writers Diary

The Freedom Writers DiaryThe Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers

Genre: Non-fiction, Education, Memoir
Rating: 2/5 stars

I wanted to love this book. I really, really wanted to love this book. It’s been on my to-read list for nearly 2 years (ever since I read about a teacher being suspended for using the book in her classroom). I’m a fan of reading banned and challenged books . . . and I’m a fan of inspiring teachers . . . and I’m a fan of using writing to work through problems. Plus, I read so many wonderful reviews of this book, I just had incredibly high expectations.

The story itself is inspiring. I have no doubts that Erin Gruwell was a fabulous teacher and that her students did wonderful things. I commend her on her dedication to the class and I commend the Freedom Writers for all of their hard work. But this book falls short.

The diary entries are so over-edited that they feel like they could have been written by the same person. There’s no authentic voice, which is so much more necessary in a book that’s supposed to be diary entries. There’s a splattering of urban vocabulary throughout some of the entries, but without the voice, it comes off like people trying to sound urban. The students’ stories were often heartbreaking and inspiring, but the full impact was lost because of the lack of voice.

The Freedom Writers Diary feels like it’s trying to be two books in one — the diary of 150 “at-risk” teens and Gruwell’s step-by-step account of her four years at Wilson High. The book is laid out by semester, so as you’re reading each diary entry, you’re also getting a chronological account of the activities in Room 203. It makes the book feel less authentic. I have trouble believing that all of the entries were written when they say they were written. The book is based on the premise that these kids wrote in the diaries on their own about anything they wanted . . . . but they just so happen to have poignant touching stories to center around each one of the class’ activities? It all seemed a little too convenient.

I understand the need for anonymity, but I’d have preferred pseudonyms just to give the pieces a bit more substance. I’d also have preferred to read from the same kids in more than one entry so we could get a taste for individual progress.

The best part of the book was the Epilogue. My copy is the 10th Anniversary Edition and it included 10 diary entries from the Freedom Writers as adults. These were the only entries that actually felt like they were written by different people and because of that, there was definitely a more emotional impact.

I don’t discredit Gruwell or her students. I just think this book could have been so much better than it was.


Upcoming reviews — The BFG by Roald Dahl and InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves (Abby decided she didn’t want to read Sugar Plums to the Rescue! (Sugar Plums #5) anymore and I put The War of the Worlds on hold for a bit.)

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