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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Poetry from the Streets

For teen in my community, in Vallejo, CA, mentioning Tupac Shakur is pretty much guaranteed to give you some credibility, and his book of poetry, The Rose That Grew from Concrete is one of our most read (and lost) poetry collections. So when I saw that David Tomas Martinez’s debut collection, Hustle, not only name-checks Tupac, but recounts much of the same street-lifestyle recounted by Tupac in his hip hop and poetry, I new it was bound to be a hit at my library.

The cover, with its stark, graffiti-style type face, doesn’t hurt either. Give this one to fans of poetry of all kinds, but especially teenage boys who will feel an instant connection to the life Martinez recounts.

MARTINEZ, David Tomas. Hustle.  84p. Sarabande. May 2014. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781936747771. LC 2013031026.

These energetic verses by a young poet from San Diego about growing up in a world of gangs will appeal especially to teenage boys. Martinez chooses unusual topics for his vivid, original poetry.  In “Calaveras,” he lyrically depicts the story of a car that wants to be taken and used as a getaway vehicle in a planned murder.  “A car wants to be stolen,/as the night desires to be revved.” Suspense builds as the boys run through a cactus field to evade the police and continue home to “only a hot bath and plate of papas fritas/from a grandmother’s hands.” Several entries are about the death of a school acquaintance. “Forgetting Willie James Jones” tells of Willie’s demise, which could have happened to any of the boys. “That was the season death walked alongside us all,/wagging its haunches and twisting its collared neck/at a bird glittering along a branch.” The narrator is sorry he wasn’t “in the car that drove by/and dumped death and sickle/ in the yard of Willie’s graduation party.” Readers will see how confused the boys are when they regret deaths yet want to participate in killing. The speaker wants to go to prison as others do to earn the respect of teens in his town.  “Tupac finally turned off/the life he left on/ in an empty Vegas street/ but he was always a winner/ around my block where people got shot.” Martinez is an unusual young poet to read with pleasure and to watch in the future.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City

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About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark