Scorpions is a fiction novel about a twelve-year-old African-American boy named Jamal Hicks. Jamal lives in Harlem with his mother and little sister Sassy. The story takes place in the late 1980's. Jamal is a junior high student who constantly gets into fights at school. He believes that everything is against him. Hi teachers, the kids at school, and even his dad seem to be against him. His older brother, Randy, is incarcerated for murder as the leader of the Scorpions gang. Jamal becomes pressured to be the leader of the gang in his brother's absence. Finding his circumstances hard to bear, he decides to join the gang. After joining the Scorpions his problems escalate even further. Jamal discovers that his enemies start treating him with respect when he begins carrying a gun. He also learns that guns can bring major problems into a person's life. Belonging to a gang is a survival story within itself. Jamal never wanted to really join the Scorpions. But how else was he going to get his brother Randy out of prison? This was one of the main motivations for him joining the gang, to make bail for his brother. Jamal's friend, Tito, tries to help Jamal through his problems. When two of the Scorpions challenge Jamal's leadership of the gang, it is Tito who prevents him from getting stabbed. Jamal, in time, relinquishes his leadership role of the Scorpions and drops out. The story ends with Jamal's life still in doubt.
I read the book Scorpions this year to my sixth grade class. The students were excited every time I read it to them. The book really hits home with the students and brings out many survival issues. It's during the middle school years that many of youth are contemplating joining a gang. Our society does not seem to be doing enough to educate youths about street gang. Students need to know more about gangs so they can resist the temptation to join one. Telling children that gangs are bad is not enough. This book reveals many of the dangers gang members may face.
Most of the characters in this book do not speak standard English. I use this book often as a source for displaying my daily oral language lessons. Each morning I put two sentences on the board for students to correct. Getting my sentences from Scorpions sets the stage for me to read them the story. As we're making corrections the students reflect on the story with interest. It taps their prior knowledge as they are having a grammar lesson.