“Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them” by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell | Book Review

Book Reivew | Rating – 5/5 | Genre – Nonfiction

The history of this book revolves around being taught about this story many many years ago when I was in High-School (so about 13/14 years old). We were shown the movie adapataion as part of a lesson that revolved around humanity and literature (connected Anne Frank with the Freedom Writers story), only now I realise how much that lesson just re-hashed this book. Since then, I’ve had thi sbook in my collection after being given it by the love librarian at my school, knowing how much I enjoyed the movie, and reading in general, it also serves as a nice reminder of school as it still holds all the markings of the school’s library. Anywho, lets get on with the review…

Shocked by the teenage violence she witnessed during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, Erin Gruwell became a teacher at a high school rampant with hostility and racial intolerance. For many of these students, whose ranks included substance abusers, gang members, the homeless, and victims of abuse, Gruwell was the first person to treat them with dignity, to believe in their potential and help them see it themselves. Soon, their loyalty towards their teacher and burning enthusiasm to help end violence and intolerance became a force of its own. Inspired by reading The Diary of Anne Frank and meeting Zlata Filipovic (the eleven-year old girl who wrote of her life in Sarajevo during the civil war), the students began a joint diary of their inner-city upbringings. Told through anonymous entries to protect their identities and allow for complete candor, The Freedom Writers Diary is filled with astounding vignettes from 150 students who, like civil rights activist Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders, heard society tell them where to go, and refused to listen. (Check it out here)

What did I think?

When it comes to certain nonfiction books, I find it hard to write a fitting review, especially with books like this, where it deals with such personal issues that it raises an important question, “who am I to say what makes this a good book?”. However, rather than focusing on the way it was written, or the usual parts of a book that I find interesting, I’m instead going to focus on the actual subject matter.

For me, what made this book such a stand-out addition to my book collection, is the raw subject matter. As I read each diary entry I could feel the pain and hardships that these students went through during some of their most important years. Yes, it was frustrating not knowing who I was actually reading about, the reader in me wanting to know who these people were as the eyars progressed, but this isn’t just a book, its real-life. These aren’t characters, they are people who dealt with some horrific things that no person should have to go through.

Reasons to read Freedom Writers Diary…

  • Important subjects: the book calls out a lot of issues that the various students faced throughout their school lives. There were many moments when I found myself tearing up at the awful things that happened to some of the students. As its real-life there are entries that unfortunately have unhappy endings, but it only reflects what the reality is for students then, and now.
  • Just as relevant: the students experiences and the publishing of the book all occurred in the 90s, which, despite having happened 20 years earlier, is still very much relevant today. There have been some lessons learnt, but coming from England I’m not able to talk about the American school system.

At the end of the day…

I really enjoyed reading this book, well, enjoyed isnt the best word to describe the reading experience. It was eye-opening to read the stories, understanding what happened to the students during their time at high-school. Like I’ve said, although it occured in the 90s, the stories are still very relevant to today’s high-school experience.

The book showcases the pitfalls and abuse that some students go through. I’m not entirely able to comment as a white male from England, but I am fully aware that a lot of these experiences still haven’t gone away, and a lot of them are still very much ignored by the systems that should protect them.

I would definitely recommend that everyone give this book a read. Although it showcases some of the darker parts of the students lives, it also showcases how they persevered and came out on top. Heartbreaking, yet equally heart-warming.


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