You know how the school-to-prison pipeline is a thing that people are finally talking about? Welp, back in 1992, this book about a gang of very young men trying to stay alive in Oakland was published, and I totally missed it, and I suspect almost everyone else did, too.
It’s a really important topic, and thank goodness people are finally supporting discussion about it in a bigger way. I’m mostly thinking of Anna Deveare Smith’s current Off-Broadway show, but also about it being more prevalent in news coverage at least than it used to be.
This is a tragic story about some best friends whose gang holds a couple of dingy blocks in Oakland, who follow the rules of gangdom, the rules of being black, the rules of dealing with cops, with bigger dealers, with rival gangs, and who can barely imagine not being hungry.
My heart broke for these young boys, particularly knowing that they are out there off-the-page, in huge numbers, actually living these lives that they’ve been set up for and can’t break out of. They are sad, and scared, and too young for this, and doomed. It’s a seemingly hopeless situation. And knowing that nothing has changed in the last 25 years only makes it more tragic.
My quibble mostly has to do with the greenness of the writing; it’s fairly hit-me-over-the head with constant thematic repetition, maybe out of concern that the reader will lose the linguistic threads he’s playing with? It’s a debut novel, and it shows. It was my attachment to the characters that kept me reading, and I would absolutely recommend that everyone give it a try.