If I Grow Up Book Poster Image

If I Grow Up

Very violent, stereotyped look at life in the 'hood.

What parents need to know

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

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.

Parents Need to Know

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

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Todd Strasser
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Publication date:February 24, 2009
Number of pages:240
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

This review of If I Grow Up was written by

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Teen, 14 years old Written bymaddiethenonreader December 12, 2011

I don't know why this only got 2 stars...

i absolutely hate reading. i am going to be honest with you. it sucks. last year in 8th grade i read 4 books. this happend to be one of them. my friend reccomended it to me so i decided i would try it out. i fell inlove. this is by far the best book i have ever read in my whole life. the ending was sad and the begining got me hooked. its a good book for people to read to realize that there is the life that most of us live, where we have it easy and there is the life in the projects where kids role modles are gang leaders who deal drugs for a living. this is the only book i have ever reccomended. i really hope you read it, it is AMAZING!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
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 projects. But i can see at the end were the whole money going to your head thing can lead you. And when you read this you think they have pretty clean mouths for being in a gang.
What other families should know
Too much violence
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 the choice do I want to be a dead gang member some day no we all have our choices you want choose that life go ahead this book is very good their is some violence in this book yes I know about the shooting and robbery and sexuality and drugs this boy lives in the projects again remember in the projects happen a lot of things you take your risks of life going out their to live or die
What other families should know
Educational value