Russell West, now of Birmingham, has released his first book, “The Birth of a Vigilante,” quite a feat for anyone. For West, the accomplishment is much more of a triumph, however — he has worked his way up from reading on a fourth-grade level after graduation from Maryville High School with a Special Ed diploma in 1996 to an eighth-grade reading level, and now has a published book to his credit. The book, published by Outskirts Press (www.outskirtspress.com), of Denver, is in the action and adventure genre and contains 110 pages.
West said, “Initially, the book was supposed to be a fan-fiction story, an origin story for the ‘Green Hornet’ franchise. But I couldn’t get royalties for that so the people I published it with suggested I make some changes that led it to be an entirely different story.
“Since I have trouble reading and writing myself, they got me in touch with a ghostwriter to help fill in the blanks. She would call me and I would tell her what to write. She would email the various drafts to see how well it was going, to see if I wanted to change anything or not.”
West credits comic books with helping him improve his skills, becoming interested in them in his late teens. “That helped me to improve my reading level to where I could read a magazine or a newspaper on my own,” he said.
West’s parents, Steve and Ruth West, of Maryville, had no idea their son was writing a book. Steve said, “We are certainly proud of him. We’re really impressed with how far he’s come along in his reading and writing since he left Maryville High.”
The book contains a huge historical element. West said, “I’m a big history buff. I love reading biographies and watching documentaries and stuff like that.” One of the characters is based on a historical figure, Hetty Green (1834-1916). “She was America’s first female mogul. That part is true,” West said. “I bought a biography of her awhile back and it seemed like an interesting concept to read about. You don’t hear about too many women in that era who were successful in business.”
The book’s focus is on Titus Booth, a brilliant, athletic only son of equally brilliant parents who nourish their son’s remarkable gifts in every way they can. In several heartbreaking twists of fate, Titus loses his beloved grandmother — who had dressed as a man and fought in the Civil War — and then, at 14, witnesses the murder of his parents in 1901. He ends up in the New Bedford, Mass., Home for Children, an institution supported by the fictional Hetty Green. Here, Titus draws her attention and her affection as she takes him under her wing and restores the privileged life he’d enjoyed before his parents were murdered.
Tragedy strikes again as the young man heads to China on a trip funded by Green to allow him to resume his studies both academically, culturally and in the martial arts. He is exploited and betrayed by someone he trusted aboard the ship on which he was traveling to China ... and a vigilante, intent on revenge, emerges.
West said he got the idea for Titus after reading a biography of William James Sidis, an American child prodigy who became the youngest person to enter Harvard University at the age of 11. “Sidis had a really interesting childhood, he didn’t really do much as an adult, but I thought that would make for a good origin story for somebody.”
Determined to succeed
Steve and Ruth West are very proud of the independent man their son has become and the accomplishments he’s achieved. Steve said, “When he graduated at Maryville, he was reading on about a fourth-grade level, and really, through comic books, I think the last time he tested, he was reading on about an eighth-grade level. He’s working on his GED, that he started on his own down in Birmingham.”
Russell moved to Birmingham to attend Horizons School (www.horizonsschool.org), which offers young adults with learning disabilities in the borderline to average range of intelligence a college-like experience as they live away from home, develop friendships, prepare for careers and establish and practice setting, planning and evaluating personal goals. Steve said, “After he got out of high school, we knew he could work and everything but he wanted more. The rest of his family had gone on to college. Ruth found this school in Birmingham, so we went down to look at it.”
Russell graduated from Horizons in 2000, and worked as a groundskeeper at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, from 2000 to 2013. He now works at the Habitat Restore in Birmingham.