I continue to make my way through a pile of YA novels for my current graduate course and am back to share my thoughts on the latest one. This week, I had to read a selection in the "street fiction" genre, which I must say, I find the name of the genre to be slightly racist as it's all about black urban teens. But not all black teens are "street" and not all "street" teens are black, so it kind of bothers me and I can't help but feel there is a marginalization going on here. That said, I enjoyed the book that I read. Told in alternating letters written between a boyfriend in jail and his girlfriend on the outside. There were rare moments in the text where I felt the voices were a little off, but not enough to turn me off. Enjoy.
Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon
(St. Martin's Griffen, 2005)
Antonio and Natasha are madly in love and plan to spend the rest of their lives together. But when Antonio is sent “upstate” for the murder of his dad, all their hopes and dreams for the future fall into jeopardy. No longer able to spend their days hanging out together in Harlem or even see each other face-to-face, they write each other letters to stay close. But can their love survive if they are separated from each other?
Told in alternating letters, this novel set in the early '90s details the strain that circumstances take on young love. Young love is hard enough to keep alive under the best of circumstances, but when you add an obstacle like a 10year felony sentence, it is nearly impossible for the two lovers not to grow apart. Antonio has his own demons to face as he comes to realize the harsh reality of his circumstances, meanwhile Natasha slowly realizes that she can't put her life on hold. And though it's clear that these two are growing apart, you never stop rooting from to pull through.
While this is a compelling love story on the surface, under the surface there is much to think about and consider. The backdrop of this love story is the toll heavy incarceration of black males has on the communities and families in their lives, the racially unbalanced legal system in our country, and the struggle facing those who try to raise themselves up from poverty and hardship. Written in an honest, straightforward style that pulls no punches, this is a compelling novel about teen life in a specific place and specific time that can be universally impactful.