Friday, December 3, 2010

After Tupac and D Foster

I have a new author crush. Jacqueline Woodson. Swoon. Earlier this week I read her Young Adult novel After Tupac and D Foster. I really really loved it. So then I cyberstalked her for a day or so, reading various online interviews with her and pieces by her, and as a result I really really love her. She is an African American lesbian who's committed to creating fiction that speaks to and about young people, especially young people of color, honestly as well as hopefully. Honesty and hope are in my opinion two crucial facets of meaningful, relevant fiction, YA or otherwise. In this, the first work of Woodson's that I've read, both shine through.

It's amazing how much she packs into this novel. It is a lovely, touching story of friendship and a coming-of-age story. At the same time it takes in, takes on many issues, including police racism and brutality and targeting of young Black men and false arrests and the prison system, homophobia and anti-gay violence, community and its many meanings and manifestations, families, the foster care system, and more. Through her exploration of how important Tupac Shakur is to the main characters, the impact of his work, of his life and death, Woodson does an amazing job of evoking the yearning vulnerability of these three girls on the cusp of adolescence. Not to get sappy, but there's a lot of love in these pages, family love, friend love, writerly love for these characters the author brings so glowingly to life. I found myself quite caught up in it all.

From time to time I've noted here that I want to try to read more YA fiction, and I have in fact been doing that over the last few months. To tell the truth, it hadn't gone all that swimmingly until I got to Woodson's book. Several titles I didn't make it through because they just didn't grab me, didn't sustain my interest. Several others I did finish and did like to varying degrees but none stirred me the way I wished. I'd begun to conclude, ridiculously wrongly I now realize, that perhaps I just couldn't find my way into the world of YA lit, probably because I'm, well, not a YA to say the least. I didn't think it was a matter of the fictional focus or topics but I wondered whether it was about pacing, vocabulary, structure. Then I read After Tupac and D Foster, and all that gets swept away and I see that, as with any other genre of literature, it was just a matter of not yet having found the one I was waiting for. Now I'm looking forward to reading more of Woodson's work, and I'm happily reassured that other great YA books also await.