Thursday, August 13, 2009

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Since I work in teen services at the public library, it would help if I cared more than I do about popular culture. I love teen literature, but I watch no tv, almost no movies and I listen to folk, blues and world beat music almost exclusively. Then a novel like After Tupac and D Foster comes into my hands and gets me searching out YouTube rap videos.

I had heard of Tupac Shakur, of course. He died in 1996 but his collection of poetry, The Rose That Grew From Concrete, is still popular with teens. Now I've watched a couple of his music videos (Brenda's Got a Baby; Dear Mama) and I have a better understanding of the world of Woodson's novel.

We never learn the name of the narrator, who tells how she and her best friend, Neeka, became fast friends with D Foster when they were 11 years old. "The summer before D Foster's real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn't dead yet." The girls call themselves 'Three the Hard Way' and relate strongly to Tupac and his music. "By the time her mama came and got her and she took one last walk on out of our lives, I felt like we'd grown up and grown old and lived a hundred lives in those few years that we knew her."

Neeka appears to have a crush on D, although this interpretation relies on very subtle clues because the narrator is unaware of it. One of Neeka's older brothers, Tash, is flamboyantly gay and calls himself a sister. Tash is in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Themes of intolerance and injustice are central to the story.

The main readership for this novel is probably girls in Grade 5 to 7, but this is a novel I will also recommend to older teens and adults. Anyone who enjoys a bittersweet coming-of-age story with insights into the complexities of human behaviour.

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