I loved this book. Toya Wolfe did an amazing job creating a vivid world in this coming-of-age story set in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago in the 1990s. This was the era in which many public housing projects were being torn down, and this story is told within that context of fear and uncertainty. (I had watched The Pruitt-Igoe Myth years ago and it’s just a wonderful documentary if you want a depiction of the complexities of urban housing post WWII and the use of public housing as a tool for segregation). Felicia (FeFe) and Precious have been friends for a long time, living floors apart in their building. They also make room in their group for Stacia, the daughter of a family of gangsters who recently relocated to their building when her own was torn down. This story focuses on the summer when the girls are about 12 years old. They meet Tonya, who appears to be playing alone on the steps of their building. When Felicia invites her to play with them, that small act of kindness reshapes their summer in a way that will reverberate across their lives.
Wolfe draws from her own experiences to portray the vibrant life within her housing complex. She doesn’t shy away from the terror of violence (the family has a known safe place and protocol for crawling to the hallway when gun fire breaks out around them). The characters in this book lead hard lives, from sexual abuse and exploitation, to police brutality and exposure to drugs and addiction. While there are many unsafe adults and so many things that force children to grow up far too early, there are also moments of joy and reprieve. There are places that children find to play – the balcony on certain floors, or the yard during the daytime. There are parents who care about their children and show them how to care for others, too. There’s beauty in their relationships, even as the girls face devastating realities. It is both tender and tragic. We are let into the lives of these girls, their innocence and struggles, and it’s a gift to be able to visit this summer with them.
Content warnings apply – but if you are able, please take the time to read this heart wrenching debut novel.