Thursday, January 25, 2007

Street Love

Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publisher: Amistad
ISBN: 13-978-0-06-028079-6

Street Love is an enchanting love story set in contemporary Harlem. Damien is a rising star, smart and athletic, who is on his way to an Ivy League college and a good life. Junice is a young beauty, struggling to keep her fractured family from disintegrating completely. Damien and Junice’s attraction is thrilling and their uncertainty is palpable. Can two lives on such divergent trajectories merge, or will they merely intersect? Can Damien and Junice meld their long-held dreams? Can they create a future founded on shared dreams? These are the questions that suffuse this story and drive it to its conclusion.

Walter Dean Myers, author of numerous books for teen readers, tells the story of Street Love in free verse. At times, the lines scan as if they’ve been lifted from the blues:
Yeah, it’s hard, baby
It’s hard right down to the bone
I said Oh, it’s hard baby
It’s hard right down to the very bone
It’s hard when you’re a woman
And you find yourself all alone. . .

At other times, lines read as if they’ve come from a recent rap hit:
My folks are laying lines on me like
They’ve written out the part and all
I got to do is get to a place called Start
And follow the road to fame and glory—
A PhD in mucho buckology
Two point five kids and a quick apology
To the starving folks in East Ain’tGotNothingVille
. . .(p. 9).

And always, the poetry feels authentic and fresh. You will find few, if any, clich├ęs in this book.

Myers skillfully uses his poetry to accomplish many tasks. In addition to expressing the thoughts, desires, motives and interactions of his characters, Myers uses words to render vivid scenes:
Autumn in Harlem.
Fume-choked leaves, already
Yellowed, crack in the late September
Breeze. Weeds, city tough, city brittle,
Push defiantly along the concrete edges
Of Malcom X Boulevard.
. . (p.1).

He uses poetry to depict action:
Then they fight. Fists fly, legs spread
Damien’s fury forcing Sledge to back up
As he wards off the blows. . . .
The two roll on the ground as children watch, never
Putting down their sodas, their bags of chips
It is just the everyday violence of a
Ghetto afternoon. .
. (p. 105).

Myers’ writing is frugal and fluid, the work of an author who does not cloak his ideas in excess verbiage, obscure metaphors or archaic language. Moreover, the reader can’t help being swept up in the poetry’s cadences and mentally dancing along with its verbal rhythms. My only criticism of this book is that I would like to have heard more from some members of the supporting cast, such as the social worker who threatens to tear apart Junice’s family, or Damien’s mother, who opposes his relationship with Junice and, particularly, Damien’s father, who longs for a closer relationship with his son. Myers skips through these characters roles so quickly that one may wonder why he included them at all. It may be, however, that Myers’ intended audience, teen readers, would not be as interested in these characters as I am. Perhaps he senses that his readers will want to keep their attention on the primary characters without being distracted by subplots involving older folks. I suspect that Street Love will not appeal strongly to adults. Teens, however, will identify closely with the lead characters and see something of their own longings in this story. They will find this book worth reading.

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