Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Review

After Tupac & D Foster
Jacqueline Woodson
Putnam Young Adult

A generation of young people grew up under the mystique of Tupac Shakur. Shakur represented hope, vision and pride for fans spanning across age groups. For many kids, Tupac made them feel like somebody and that their lives mattered in a way no school or slogans could. His influence culturally and musically is integral to the story. I don’t know how another reviewer misses that. True, Tupac’s lyrics are not front and center, but choice lines are significant and more importantly, Tupac’s music and life is the connecting thread; it is the anchor on which D negotiates and focuses on where she is going. If you want to begin to understand why Tupac held the almost Godlike status, pay close attention to D. If you’re ignorant about Hip Hop and rap of Tupac’s generation, here’s an opening.

And the sub-plots are equally compelling. Neeka’s brother isn’t just jailed for a crime he doesn’t commit, but he is victimized because he is gay. And this gay man, is compassionate, talented, mentally balanced and a great role model. He cares about his family and making sure he isn’t a victim again. He won’t be in jail again. D isn’t just in a foster home, she has spent most of her life in is a series of foster homes, has never known her father and longs for her mother who struggles with alcohol.

This coming-of-age story isn’t just about three girls who could be any girls. It is relevant that they are African-American. Woodson never creates stock characters. And if you've read her other works, you know her characters cross class, economic, and a variety of family units. Each girl has experiences and views distinctively different. It is relevant that Woodson examines a variety of social and personal issues through relationships in a way that is intimate and endears the reader to the characters of the story.

Woodson writes with clarity and subtly in this genre of realistic fiction in a manner that commands our admiration and respect. She is a gifted writer who tackles complex topics with a style that challenges, inspires, informs and educates.


Eva said...

I've never heard a Tupac song (that I know of), so I wasn't sure if this one would be accessible to me or not. What do you think?

susan said...

Eva, I couldn't name a Tupac song. This is why I read the book to understand why people identified with him. This isn't a book for Tupac fans only. The book is about finding someone, something bigger than yourself that you can hold onto, to help you find yourself. That's what Tupac represented for D. Tupac made her feel she had a purpose.

Steph Su said...

Thanks for the review! I've heard mixed things about this one so I don't know whether I'll read it soon, but I'll keep it in mind. :)

susan said...

Steph, Check out the link to an interview with Ms. Woodson in the profile below the review. Ms. Woodson is a highly respected author with an arm length of awards.

While this isn't my favorite read, it is well-written and worth reading. It is a Newbery Honor Book. Awards aren't everything but they do say something.

Cloudscome said...

I lived in a neighborhood where rap was always pouring out the windows during early 90s, when this book is set. Reading it last week brought that time in my life back clear as day. It was a real pleasure to get to know Woodson's characters. I felt I knew the girls as real and was fascinated by their differences as well a how they related to the same things.

I think it's important to recognize the hope that Tupac represented to them and also how they felt he knew them and could see their lives as meaningful and important. They felt his pain as well. Isn't that what we need and want in an artist?

I also thought it was brilliant and touching how Woodson used the trauma of Tupac's shootings to bring the girls to the age of awareness. Their growing understanding of their own identity in their dreams and ambitions, and the world's racism and homophobia follow the progression of their admiration for Tupac. Culture/Music/Art as a vehicle for their coming of age.

Now I've gone and written my review right here. I was going to post about it next week...