If I Grow Up

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
If I Grow Up Book Poster Image
Very violent, stereotyped look at life in the 'hood.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

If the novel's goal was to look inside inner-city life to explain why people are forced to live the way they live, it succeeded somewhat. If the goal was to give the reader some sort of lesson on life and consequences, it was a half-hearted attempt. If the goal was to play up and market inner-city stereotypes, it succeeded.

Positive Messages

One could try to put a positive spin on the novel by using the main character as an example of what not to do and how things can go wrong when one makes the wrong choices. The book, however, mostly spends its time wavering between glorifying the stereotypical "gangsta lifestyle" while backhandedly condemning it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While initially the lead character has many admirable traits, the fact that he succumbs to the drug dealer lifestyle negates the positive attributes. Secondary characters are lauded as heroes or victims of their circumstances, but none are examples most parents would hold up to their children. There are some positive outcomes and positive character turnarounds; however, they are approached more as a footnote than examples the writer deliberately set out to highlight.


Plenty of violence, some of it graphically described. A child is thrown from a window and killed; two tweens shoot a pregnant woman, killing her baby; multiple drive-bys; several assassinations; including one in which the body is described as having part of the victim's forehead missing from a gun shot to the back of the head.


Characters have sex, and while the sexual encounters aren't described, multiple pregnancies result from the encounters. Several characters have sex with multiple partners. One teen couple talks about having sex in an abandoned building on a old mattress that is soiled.


Occasional name-calling.


A few brand names are mentioned, including Starter and Nike, as well as types of cars -- Range Rover and Escalade.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens both sell and use drugs. Marijuana use, crack cocaine addiction and usage described, as well as the manufacturing of the drugs and paraphernalia. Many side characters are drug addicts.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book contains heavy violence and strong inner-city stereotypes and cliches.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byYoungPositive November 13, 2014

The best

I am Also in middle school I saw this book and it cought my eye it was very interesting book and it's educational for us to learn that we really do have th... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bycaleb12 October 17, 2018


Overall the book was awesome with plenty of action, plus plenty of drama. the book contains a lot of killing and people getting pregnant.
i dont know why this... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byandasif June 23, 2012

Not realistic

I didnt really like it but i can see how other people would like it. It was kinda preditable. And there seemed to be too many good guys for being in the project... Continue reading

What's the story?

DeShawn lives in the projects in New York City. There are few opportunities for success; teens regularly join gangs and sell drugs, and gunshots are more frequent than bird songs. DeShawn is a smart kid who knows the gang and drug life can only end in tragedy, but how can he stand by and watch his family starve?

Is it any good?

This is a painfully one-dimensional novel that could be used as a script for any after-school special, crime drama, or urban movie. When a book is set in an urban setting where poverty, poor choices, and lack of opportunity are prevalent, critics tend to call the book "gritty." However, many of these books only feed off of press snippets and writer imagination of what the 'hood' is really like, and so the stories lean closer to stereotypes of urban life. This novel, unfortunately, is no exception.

Stock characters -- the hard working grandma, the knocked-up older sister, the good kid struggling to stay out of trouble while enduring peer pressure and oppressive poverty -- are all in place here, as well as stock ghetto situations like eating cereal with water, multiple sex partners, pregnancies, lack of male responsibility, and blinged-out dope dealers that are anti-heroes to the residents. Add in a couple of drive-bys, double crosses, and a smidge of regret, and it really misses the mark.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about DeShawn's decision. Why did he finally make the choice he did when it came to joining the gang? Did he have other options? What were they?

  • Was Marcus a hero or an anti-hero? What things did he do right? What things did he do wrong?

  • How do you feel about the characters? Do they feel like real people, or stereotypes of real people and stories you've seen or read about?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love contemporary fiction

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