“The Other Wes Moore” Book Review

Samantha Zakrzewski, Writer/Editor

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Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar and employee of the White House, delves into the lives of himself and another man, also named Wes Moore. Besides sharing a name, the two are also African American men who grew up in rough neighborhoods without fathers. Both, as children, found themselves getting into fights and associating with students who had a negative influence on them. Yet, what makes this story so compelling is that while Wes (author) ends up achieving great things, the other Wes will spend the rest of his life in jail for murder. The book poses a question that leaves readers wondering- how could two men, both from similar circumstances, turn out so different?

Upon learning about the other Wes Moore, Wes (author) sets up an interview with him in prison. The book is set up with interludes in which the two Wes’ share their opinions on the situation. This provides readers with their thoughts as they look back on these events and somewhat offers an answer to the book’s big question.

Wes Moore (author) starts with each of their childhoods, providing as much details as possible. Wes’s (author) father died when he was young and the other Wes’ father abandoned his family. Being abandoned by his father has a negative impact on Wes, which we see as the book progresses.  

Wes Moore’s (author) mother, Joy, was very strict- she made sure that her children stayed in school, maintained good grades, and weren’t negatively influenced by their peers. It’s clear from the very beginning that Joy wants her children to have access to the best opportunities possible. Rather than sending her kids to the substandard public schools, she sends them to private schools and encourages them to strive for stellar grades.

Despite attending a prestigious school, Wes still finds himself getting into trouble- he does graffitti, picks on his sister, and his grades begin to slip. It’s clear that Wes has conflicted feelings as students ridicule and tease him, both at his nearly all white school and in his neighborhood. As a result, Wes feels alienated both at home and at school and continues his mischievous ways.

Left with no other options, his mother sends him to military school. At first, Wes is reluctant to make an effort at the new school. He even tries running away multiple times. However, upon being under the influence of Captain Ty Hill, one of the mentors at the school, Wes pulls himself together and begins studying more frequently and joins the basketball team.

Meanwhile, the other Wes Moore’s mother, Mary, wasn’t as involved with her son. When Wes’s grades began to slip and he associated with students who had a negative influence over him, his mother didn’t step in. Although it isn’t fair to place all of the blame on Mary, readers can easily see that had his mother or any parental figure cut in, Wes might have taken a different path in life. For example, Joy refused to allow her son to succumb to peer pressure. While she implemented strict rules and was very harsh with her son, Mary didn’t seem to care all that much about her son’s behavior.

The other Wes yearns for Tony’s, his older half brother, expensive wardrobe. He knows that Tony can afford these clothes because of his involvement in the drug world, so he decides to join as well. Becoming a part of the drug world is the first of many poor decisions that Wes will make as the novel progresses.

Soon after joining the drug game, Wes is arrested for the attempted murder of one of his girlfriend’s boyfriends. Luckily, his sentence isn’t that long, so he has the opportunity to make a change in his life by leaving the drug game. After being released from prison, he finally makes a good decision and enters the Job Corps. However, as rewarding as this program may be, the jobs pay minimum wage and he has no time to spend with his family. Stress and fatigue leads him to reenter the drug world.

The differences between the two Wes’ only continues to grow as the novel progresses. We watch as the author furthers his education while the other Wes becomes more involved with drugs. While the author attended John Hopkins University and went on to Oxford, the other Wes was found guilty for the murder of an off duty police officer.    

“The Other Wes Moore” urges readers to keep reading until they reach the very last page. Wes spares no details and accounts for as much as possible. He has a way with words that makes you want to find out just how these two men could have ended up in such different places.

Upon finishing the book, readers are provided with some explanation as to how these two men, brought up under similar circumstances, could have ended up so differently. However, there is no clear cut answer. Do environmental factors influence the way we develop? If so, then how come two men, who grew up under such similar circumstances, end up in completely different places- one a John Hopkins graduate and the other in prison for murder? This review is merely my perspective on the book- what you take away from it will probably be completely different. So see for yourself and maybe you could answer this highly debatable question.