After Tupac & D Foster
By Jacqueline Woodson
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (division of Penguin)
Ages 10-17 (though honestly I’m just spitballing here)
On shelves now
Some authors make writing reviews easy. You pick up their book, glance at the cover, and the words pour out of you like a hard spring rain. Jacqueline Woodson is not one of those authors, and this is not a bad thing. Her books are deep little critters. Their surface concerns hint at fuller depths. Her Newbery Honor winning book Feathers was a novel that I made the mistake of reading, putting down for a month or two, and then picking up to review. I couldn’t do it. It isn’t that it wasn’t a fine book. More that I couldn’t figure out what to say about it when the time came. Fortunately, I don’t have that problem with After Tupac & D Foster. A title that feels more autobiographical than anything else, After Tupac is a lovely take on friendship, trouble, and an awe-inspiring performer whose legend only seems to grow.
He was killed on September 13, 1996, but before Tupac died there was D Foster. In a neighborhood in Queens, our narrator and her best friend Neeka meet D, a girl who is eleven-years-old like them and has seen a lot of homes in her day. The three bond almost immediately and through the course of their acquaintance try to juggle the everyday realities of family, their shared love of Tupac, and the future as it comes to them. D Foster just wants to stay in one home from here on in, but when her real mom gets her act together and wants her back, the closeness of the girls is sorely tested.
A lot has been said in professional reviews of this title about Woodson’s choice to keep her heroine’s name out of the book. I wish the Acknowledgments or the bookflap could have said whether or not Woodson based any of this on her own feelings about Tupac when he was killed. As far as I can tell, she was probably not the age of the girls in this book when it happened. But once in a while a celebrity death hits hard and close to home. You certainly get that impression in this book, and in such a way that the reader isn’t left wondering why all these people should care about a guy they’ve never even met. And if that personal a touch has come into her book, then it would make sense to keep the main character’s name out of it. How often on a given day do you say your own name to yourself? How often do you even hear your own name, always assuming that you’re not a kid raising your hand in class? By keeping everything in the first person, we get this story through the eyes of someone who pays more attention to the people around her than she does to herself. As she herself says, "Mostly I was the quiet one in the group, The Brain. Mostly I watched and listened." Pity the person who had to write the blurb for this book, eh?
People always have their bugaboos about books, and one of mine is that there isn’t a quintessential child or teen book out there about The Black Panthers. It just chaps my hide. So whenever I see a mention of the Panthers in a book I get all excited. Woodson rightly points out that Tupac’s mom was a former Panther, and Woodson is one of the few authors to even acknowledge the Panther programs like those offering free breakfast and prenatal care. I’ve also not seen that many fictional books for kids and teens that address Tupac and his life. As one reviewer of the book pointed out, Woodson acknowledges the man’s own homophobia, but for the most part he comes off looking pretty good here. Certainly you wish there was an accompanying CD or something that would let you hear the songs the girls are listening to.
The age range for this book is very very interesting to consider. I mean our heroines are eleven and maybe twelve during the course of the story. But the writing is definitely from an adult, or at the very least teen, perspective looking back at that time. The girls also have to deal with issues that your average everyday tween book isn’t considering. Things like having your best friend’s brother gay and in jail for a crime he never committed. Then again, nothing in this book is inappropriate for ten and eleven-year-olds either. Woodson keeps the profanities low to non-existent without sacrificing her language or dialogue.
And man, does she have an ear for dialogue and prose. It’s hard to read this book without hearing the very voices of the characters that are saying them. Who else can get away with a sentence like, "brother ain’t know me from a can of paint"? I don’t usually read a book and find myself yearning for the audio book version as well, but After Tupac & D Foster may have to be the exception. If the audio book could get the rights to actual Tupac songs too, you could end up with a bloody piece of fine art on your hands, you could! Woodson’s prose is top notch too, of course. I loved the moment when you saw the three girls becoming friends with the help of some double dutch. When Woodson ends her chapter with the sentence, "And the three of us had a rhythm going," there’s simply nothing more to be said. Woodson doesn’t go in for long self-indulgent paragraphs or heavily repeated thoughts or themes. The editing on this puppy was top notch and there’s not a wasted word in the text.
A great little Woodson book, and one that I think would be perfectly acceptable in the children’s section of any library. Profanity, if there is any, is negligible (and certainly not memorable) and the violence is always in the past. This is just a really good story about friends, keeping them, losing them, and how you never really know what’s going on in another person’s brain. An ode to the cusp of adolescence without fudging the inner details. Woodson through and through.
On shelves now.
Notes on the Cover: Seems to me that if your whole book keeps talking on and on about Tupac’s sexy brown eyes, it would make a certain amount of sense to play them up on the cover. I mean, there are going to be some kids out there who will read this book and not have a clue who Tupac is. I liked the snow angel since that scene was maybe the climax of the book. And I suppose that putting a blue faded Tupac above it makes him look ghostly, which is part of the point. Still, would have been nice to make out his eyes a little more clearly.
Other Blog Reviews: Chasing Ray
Professional Reviews: The Washington Post