It is rare when a book moves me to tears. It’s not that I’m not sentimental about things that have meaning to me, but that I can generally separate myself from what I’m reading enough to retain necessary distance. So when I say that The Freedom Writers Diary, made me cry, that’s saying a lot.
If you’re one of the five people in the country who hasn’t seen the film, read the book first, then rent the DVD. The book has 150 or so diary entries, designated solely by number, by the students in Erin Gruwell’s English classes from Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA, during the late nineties. They are frank, often brutal, glimpses into the lives of real kids living in a city that MTV dubbed “the gangsta rap capital of the world,” and they will tear at your heart strings.
Bookending the kids’ diaries are journal entries from Erin herself, the young teacher who manages to turn a bunch of disenfranchised teenagers into first a class, and then a family, teaching them about tolerance by using the diaries of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic as well as other works she finds relevant to their lives.
It’s a moving book, made more so by the knowledge that these kids, now college graduates, have turned around and continued to teach the lessons Gruwell taught them.