I’m using my holidays to curl up with eight good books I’ve already read. (Newbery committee members are curled up with dozens. Hope they all have BIG comfy chairs). Sharon already posted about After Tupac and D Foster, but I wanted to chime in with some of my thoughts on re-reading.
Undoubtedly a character-driven novel, the characters here are the most real in voice than any I recall encountering this year. Our main character speaks with an immediate and often humorous tone, even when thinking about serious matters:
“Mama was always saying I was a brain snob, that I didn’t like people who didn’t think. I didn’t know if that was snobby. Who wanted to walk around explaining everything to people all the time?” p. 26
“I wanted to tell Jayjones that sisters were hunted too—boys screaming behind you and whatnot. Trying to touch you when you walked past them like they had some kind of right to your body. It was crazy. “ p.70
Though there is no plot, there is clearly a theme: coming-of-age, in its multitude of manifestations. The title, on retroflection, is perfectly apt: to the narrator, everything she is now is because of coming after Tupac and D Foster:
“Lately, I’d been feeling like I was standing outside watching everything and everybody. Wishing I could take the part of me that was over there and the part of me that was over here and push them together—make myself into one whole person like everybody else.” p.37
It’s the strangeness and sense of freedom that D introduces into the narrator’s very controlled but comforting home life and stable friendship with Neeka, that eventually allows her “two halves” to come together.
Throughout this story the idea of growing up is attached to the idea of place. The narrator and Neeka aren’t allowed to leave “the block” without permission. (Two younger girls tease them, “We growner than you,” and then leave the block as if to prove it.) D, who roams, seems older, and in fact is “prettier” to boys earlier than Neeka and the narrator. The narrator gets teased frequently about being smart and leaving everyone to go off to college. Neeka’s brother Jayjones is set for a basketball scholarship, which to him means certain success and leaving their house: “Start deciding where y’all want to live…we’re gonna be moving in!” (p.133) And when the narrator visits Neeka’s oldest brother Tash in jail, she is haunted by the sound of the prison gates and the way the guard turns the keys: “And you know what he’s thinking: Remember this place good, y’all. We got a spot waiting for you.” (p.95) The three girls’ friendship itself forms a safe place from which they can test the boundaries of their childhood. When D leaves, she promises, “’we gonna remember everything. Every single inch and day and hour and minute and piece of us together now.’ …Then Desiree and her mama turned the corner and walked on out of our lives.” p.131
Looking at the reviews again for this title, I have only just realized today that the main character goes unnamed through the whole book. That I never realized it…and that, realizing it, I realize it doesn’t matter…is a testimonial to the depth of Woodson’s writing. It didn’t even occur to me when D reveals her real name as she leaves her friends on p.128:
“’We didn’t even know your name,’ I said, more to myself than to D.”
and D replies, “What difference would it make?”