Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Review of After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

When I heard, as a high school student, that John Lennon had been shot, I called my friend Kathy and we cried on the phone together, and I cried off and on for many days after that. Lennon, although old enough to be our dad, had shaped our identities and musical tastes. We were devastated. It felt like the end of an era.

Children and teenagers feel things intensely. Music has huge meaning, and musicians can sometimes enter your soul and reverberate there. For the nameless young narrator of this book and her friends Neeka and D, Tupac is such a musician. Not only his songs but his very living of the lifestyle he sings about elevates him to a mythical height in their eyes. They feel the tragic elements of his life as keenly as the events in their own lives – Neeka’s gay brother being in jail, the scariness of being black in an unjust society, D being a foster child, all three girls growing away from childhood, and D moving away from New York City all together.

The three girls’ instant, intense friendship (after an initial and very short period of wariness) is spot on, as is their easy banter, spoken in slangy black English that their own mothers try to squelch. They’re trying to figure out who they are and how they will fit into their own futures – at one point, Neeka imagines being a professor, maybe of law, lecturing to a whole room of attentive, respectful faces. Our narrator, who has been friends with Neeka since birth, wants to laugh at first but then realizes that this isn’t a farfetched dream. The girl whose point of view we share throughout the book is the bookish one. She observes everyone but also participates in the action and freely shares her thoughts. Despite this, I found her a bit of a mystery – we never gain the understanding of her and her family the way we do of Neeka or even of D, the original Child of Mystery. What does our narrator want from life? Where is she headed? Somewhere important for sure, with those powers of observation and introspection – perhaps she’ll be a writer.

Although it didn’t hit me personally with the same force as the astounding Miracle’s Boys, After Tupac & D Foster is an absorbing read for grades 5 and up.

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