Plot: On November 30th 1994, Tupac Shakur was mugged and shot 5 times. He miraculously survived. In 1996 he was shot, again, and killed. In those two short years, two young girls from Queens met D Foster, a mysterious girl living in the foster system, and lost her again when her mother returned for her. This is the story of their lives, their friendship and the way Tupac and his music influenced both.
Woodson’s novel is a wonderful snapshot of the lives of three young girls as they grow into teens. It is told from the point of view of the unnamed narrator, one of these three, but the personnalities of all the characters shine through. It’s really amazing to me how the author brought an entire community to life in so few pages. Even Neeka’s younger brother Albert who (unless I’m mistaken) does not speak a word in the entire book felt real and fully formed to me. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Woodson is a skilled writer: her prose is deceptively simple and beautifully lyrical. You just get swept up in the lightning quick chapters and the dialogue, so realistic that I could hear the voices in my head as I read.
The lives of these girls (and their narrative) are punctuated and deeply affected by the life and music of Tupac Shakur. I admit that I know next to nothing about Tupac, nothing but his name really. But the passion these girls have for his music, the bond their whole community feels for him is moving. They, D especially, feel that he eloquently expresses the troubles in their own lives.
“It’s because we black and we kids and he’s black and he’s just a kid – even though he’s twenty-three – and every single song he be singing is telling us a little bit more about what could happen to us and how the world don’t care…”
The whole community is lost, heartbroken when he dies not just because they loved him but because they see in the death of this 25 year old man a possible future for their sons and brothers “and how the world don’t care”. And also, I think, because in losing him they have lost their voice.
But I also like that this is not uncritical hero worship. The girls know that the music that they love is not perfect; they can’t condone the hatred for gay men like Neeka’s brother Tash, for example. (Speaking of Tash, he is a fascinating character in his own right with a rich story slipped into the background of the girls’ tale.)
There is so much packed into this little book, I could keep writing for a while. Woodson tackles hard problems and offers no easy answers. But still, in the somewhat open ending, I see hope.