Armstrong and CharlieArmstrong and Charlie
Year: 2017
Author: Steven B. Frank
Length: 304 pages


With race relations where they are today, it’s almost somewhat jarring to know that things haven’t changed much in over four decades. In an attempt to educate the next generation about racism, Steven B. Frank’s Armstrong and Charlie is an excellent start. While I would like to think that race relations have improved since the mid-1970’s, there are plenty of lessons available in this book that are applicable today. Still, racism can be a two-way street, and I couldn’t help but think of the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”

Beyond the obvious racial undertones to this book, Armstrong and Charlie is a fantastic book about growing up. Aimed at kids on the cusp of growing into adults, the book masterfully represents moments of peer pressure where the characters have to decide what the correct response should be. Not only does it have valuable lessons about lying, stealing, bullying, and grieving, but it includes a few moments of romance as well. As boys progress into their teenage years, these moments are sweet, but also emphasize the whirlwind of emotions and hormones about to befall all kids of that age.

The best part of Armstrong and Charlie is how the narrative splits between the two, titular boys. With the reader knowing the background of each individual, the reasons behind the biases and social friction come to light well before the boys realize that people are deeper than they appear on the surface. Somebody might be poor and act out in spite of it. Others might have family or personal problems that they’re hiding via and underneath a mask of toughness. Once we finally get to know someone, we find they’re not nearly as different as we once thought.

A fantastic book about 1970’s race relations that everyone should read, I give Armstrong and Charlie 5.0 stars out of 5.

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