A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich Book Review | Teen Ink

A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich Book Review

January 27, 2022
By StarDolphin BRONZE, Sacramento, California
StarDolphin BRONZE, Sacramento, California
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"A place where someone still thinks about you is a place you can call home." - Jiraiya

“Relax pal, you just a maintenance man--and we livin in a time when a hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich--so don’t strain yourself tryin to prove nothing.” A time of hardships and struggles, greatly represented through this quote by Benjie Johnson, the main protagonist of this book. A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich is an urban young adult book written by Alice Childress, an American author, producer, and playwright. This book won the National Book Award for Children’s Books, Coretta Scott King Award for Authors, and Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. You should read this book, because it’s a tale of a broken person who learns to grow from his mistakes. All characters in this book are not perfect, so they all have their own flaws and that’s what makes them engaging and realistic. This main setting of the story is in an urban city, but it's a ghetto place and really shows how tough it is to live on the streets. The book tells a story about hardships and breaks, but it turns into a story of healing and reconnection at the end, making it feel like a wavelength of ups and downs.

A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich is a story about a 13 year old boy named Benjie Johnson who’s into heroin, because he feels chill, real good, and feels away from reality using heroin. He kept this a secret until it was discovered by his school teachers, when he was dozing off and not paying attention in class. The people in his life want to help him, but he feels like they’re actually going against him. He can’t trust anyone, including his own family and the school and can only trust those who he feels believe in him. All he wants is for someone to believe in him, instead of being classified as a junkie by the people around him and the people investigating him.

Benjie Johnson is a fantastic and unique character, different from most stories today. When you first read the book, Benjie can be unlikable. As you continue reading throughout the story, you start to understand and sympathize with him. In the end, Benjie becomes a much likable and better character overall. Benjie was a broken kid from the start, because his real dad left when he was born and his mom was the only one who took care of him. Benjie was a very naive and ignorant person, tired of hearing life advice and wanted to live a life of his own. His mom’s fiance, Butler Craig, tries to connect with him, but Benjie couldn’t care less and despises Butler because he’s only trying to get him out of drugs, not to actually talk to him as a person. Everyone in his life is the same, which is why he just wants someone to believe in him. Nobody talks to him as a person or wants to hear his side of the story, and only wants to help him out of drugs. It’s conflicting, because Benjie actively enjoys heroin, but he isn’t an addict yet.

There aren’t many dialogues in this book, because it’s more of a Point-of-View type of story; as characters talk from their point of view and isn’t narrated by a narrator. There is a story arc told through the characters though, which makes it confusing at first but after a chapter or two, it’s easy to follow along and connect the story together. However, dialogue does show how the characters communicate and what type of things they say to portray their characteristics. Rose Johnson, who is Benjie’s mom, uses very kind and lovely words, but when she’s angry, she uses words like “goddammit” and “boy” in an aggressive manner. Benjie on the other hand, talks using slang like “chile” and “tryna” but gives off a relaxed and calm tone. Which is in character for him, but he can also go off and start passionately speaking about his family, his life, and his own personal beliefs.

My personal connection with the book is with a character named Jimmy-Lee Powell. He was Benjie’s best friend and they split apart due to Benjie’s new liking to heroin. While Jimmy-Lee was into it at some point, he decided to quit and leave for a better life because he knew he could improve his life with his talent, instead of wasting his time doing nothing but drugs. I connected with him, because I was like Jimmy-Lee. I don’t do drugs, but the drugs are a metaphor for something that causes chaos. Like Jimmy-Lee and Benjie, I used to hang out with friends who caused lots of trouble and drama. Knowing that I could spend my time doing something more productive, I left and did better things.

The message of this book is that drugs can be very harmful and can ruin things in your life. Heroin split Benjie’s relationships with family and friends and also decreased his health immensely. While heroin made him feel at ease, it was also breaking and destroying those who loved him. It tensed his relationship with his mom, Butler, his grandmother, Jimmy-Lee, his school teachers Nigeria Greene and Bernard Cohen, and many others. The other message in this book is that you can’t just rely on others to believe in you, because you also need to believe in yourself. Benjie primarily wanted others to believe in him, but he never believed in himself. Throughout the story, Benjie realizes his wrongs and why he felt so alone in this world.

I recommend this book to those who are interested in urban stories, stories that primarily focus on character growth and development, and young adult books. This book showed how damaging drugs can be on a person and how it can affect the people around you. Believing yourself is a hard thing to do, but when it happens, it can bring out the best of you. Which makes this story compelling and the broken relationships with each other, makes it hard to let the story go. The tone of the story is consistently monotone, but the color starts beginning when Benjie learns to believe in himself. This book also tells you that no matter how low you are, there’s always a 2nd chance to rise and come back up. This book is not for people under the age of 13, because of foul language. I overall enjoyed this book, and I hope you will too.

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