Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Corporate Kid by Neil Shulman & Susan Wrathall

The headlines these days are full of tales about financial instability around the world.  Corporate greed, overburdened families, and chronic underemployment are common enough leads on the evening news.  Children do not understand these headlines very well, since their financial experiences are mostly limited to earning allowance or an occasional handout for the ice cream truck.  The Corporate Kid is a novel for young people that might help explain some tricky financial concepts to kids and entertain them as well.
Charles Sullivan is a 15-year-old African American boy who lives with his mother and younger sister.  His mother is the sole support of the family since his father passed away years before.  In order to feed her children, the mother, Ramona, works several jobs.  On the way home from church one day, the family is crossing the street and Ramona is hit by a car.
 The driver of the car, Bill Bradford, is the head of a corporation called Hospitals of America.  He is a stereotypical out of touch businessman, who refuses to get out of the car when he sees it surrounded by a crowd of African American people.  Instead, he calls for help, but he does not make much of an effort to check on the injured woman. 
The outcome of the accident is devastating for Ramona’s family since she can no longer work.  Charles, her son, finds Bill Bradford’s wallet at the accident site and seeks to return it to him.  He visits the office where Bradford works and a relationship between the two develops.  Bradford has respect for the boy who returns his wallet—complete with money—and gives him a share of Hospitals of America.
The life of Bradford, the CEO, is falling apart.  His workers are picketing over his plan to outsource jobs, his wife and son are neglected because of his work schedule, and he feels the pressure to live up to his father’s example.  But, there is something compelling about the honest young man who seems so eager to learn about business.    Bill is willing to let the Charles look inside the complicated world of business and listens to his advice.
There were a few things about the book that bugged me.  First, there were a couple of scenes where African Americans gathered together were presented in a negative light.  When Bill drives his high priced car into the neighborhood where Charles lives, he speculates about whether or not his car would even be safe for five minutes.  Later, when his wife drives into the neighborhood, she voices the same white fear as well.  When Bill hits Ramona, he is completely afraid of the African American crowd who gathers around the car.  Maybe because my experiences with African Americans have been so positive, I thought this was overdone.
When I read those scenes, I was afraid that the book would not be to my liking , but, the family unit, led by Ramona, was so strong and warm that I found myself turning the pages.  I was delighted to read about Charles, a fine, upstanding, young man of character, intelligence, and principle.  He engaged the CEO with honesty that he clearly learned at home.  His mother and grandmother were under great financial pressure and their struggles were presented realistically, but they behaved ethically.  I also really enjoyed Charles’ grandmother and her relationship with a local minister.  There is a thread of religious faith (though it is not preachy), family unity, and strength of character that made this family likeable and engaging.
Bill Bradford learns lessons as well—lessons about treating others with dignity, enjoying his family, and believing in the good in other people.
One other little quibble—the third person point of view sometimes fell apart when it seemed as though the thoughts of even minor characters were mentioned in a “telling” sort of way.  For example, instead of a secretary grimacing because she had to stay late at the office (which the reader can interpret to mean she is not happy about staying late), the author tells us “she’d been looking forward to taking the rest of the afternoon off.”
Despite the few flaws I found, I really enjoyed this novel.  The tight-knit family unit, the lessons about money and finance, and the changes that the characters experienced made for good reading.  I enjoyed this book very much.
            *I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

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