Mentor: The Kid & the CEO: A Simple Story of Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Significance by Tom Alan Pace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
On the back of the book there is the claim, "Tony's [the book's narrator and protagonist] story will change your life." I have always been skeptical of such claims, particularly when made of a "self-help" book. And this one didn't (so far) change my life. However, I am probably not the book's primary target audience.
Mentor, written by Tom Pace with Walter Jenkins, told from the point of view of a young man named Tony, age 19, who is sent to jail for a parole violation and faces the real possibility of going to prison for several years. While in jail awaiting sentencing, he goes to a group therapy session run by a businessman named Malcolm who offers all who come the hope of turning their lives around. At first, Tony is skeptical and barely listens to Malcolm, just glad to escape the boredom of jail life. However, in a fairly short amount of time, largely due to the encouragement of a "lifer" convicted of murder, Tony attends, listens and becomes interested.
Malcolm stays to talk to Tony and gives him the book "The Greatest Miracle in the World" by Og Mandino to read. Tony doesn't read the book at first, but finally, with Malcolm's encouragement reads the book and begins a life-changing journey. Malcolm acts as Tony's mentor, and when Tony is released from jail without having to go to prison (due to his good behavior), Malcolm is there for him to offer guidance and encouragement. As is typical for these stories, Tony, by following Malcolm's sage advice, and through his own hard work and perseverance, succeeds as a person, a businessman, and a family man. (Tony goes to church and there meets the love of his life.)
All through the book, in the bottom margins, are bits of wisdom and advice like "finish what you start," have integrity," "have values," "save 10 percent," "read books," and so on.
I respond to this book on different levels, wearing different hats.
My book critic hat, for example, says that this is a pretty average plot line. The conflicts are resolved rather quickly with little dilemma. Malcolm introduces Tony to Gary, also a ex-con who now owns a backhoe business. It just so happens that Gary has a need for some extra help. Surprisingly, it takes a chapter or two for Gary to realize that Malcolm is the answer to his problem. Malcolm later gets into financial trouble and faces a class action lawsuit. He solves this problem by selling some of his property, and the suit is dismissed as "frivolous." Great plots are not this neat. The Joads have no property to sell to get them out of their troubles. They mortgaged it away long before they are dispossessed.
However, when I look at the advice the book offers, I am pleased with it. The advice is simple, mainly involving taking responsibility for yourself and working hard to achieve your dreams. Simple is often good and the advice is good in this simple form. My students, many of whom have already made some wrong choices (I have several fathers and mothers in my English 11 class.), should heed the advice in the book. The book is easy to read and moves quickly. Mr. Pace has made several copies of the book available to my school and others in our district. I plan to use them.
The next hat I put on is my teacher hat. I can use this book to further some lessons I have been teaching this year, particularly those involving the Heroic Archetype. Tony is on a journey, a quest for significance. He follows many aspects of the archetype, particularly, as the title says, having a mentor. He also descends into the "belly of the beast", both the jail and his own limited thinking, rises out of the depths to fight his enemies, those of his inner character. He emerges victorious and brings something good from his life: a business, a family, an opportunity to mentor others.
However, the last hat I wear is my social hat. Pace's philosophy is one of individual initiative and personal responsibility. It is a philosophy rooted deep in the American psyche and includes adherents as American as Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Dale Carnegie. (Tony reads "How to Win Friends and Influence People.") It's the American ideal of "rugged individualism." I have no quarrel with those who remind us that we are ultimately the ones responsible for our lives. However, we are not in this alone. We cannot ignore larger social forces at work that create the Tonys of our country. Poverty is not just an individual problem. Pace only hints at the larger social forces at work in America. Tony at first cannot find a job because businesses won't hire felons. He is lucky to be living with Gary when Gary, a convicted felon and therefore sympathetic to Tony's plight, develops the need for another employee. Pace also never mentions Tony's race, probably for good reason, but we cannot ignore the fact that race and poverty have become in inexorably intertwined in America.
Yes, we need individual action; my students need to take action to move their lives in a positive direction. We need self-help books, but we need just as much "social-help books" and social mentors. We do have them in America,books like "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich and mentors like Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund.
Too many individual responsibility advocates look at these voices and claim that these community organizers somehow shirk our need for individual responsibility. Such is not the case. Instead, they make us aware of the systems we have in place in this country that have led to the largest gap between rich and poor in our nation's history, and they make us ask, "why?" Are the millions of poor people in this country simply lazy? Is there not something wrong about a person working full time at minimum wage and still being far below the poverty line?
Of course, that is not the focus of Pace's book. Where he is focused, he does well. My students would do well, or at least much better, if they followed his advice. For that reason, this book, will be good for them. As I said, I plan to use it.
View all my reviews