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After Tupac and D Foster
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  New York Times Review

IT'S funny when, as a relatively well-adjusted woman in your 40s, you read two fine novels about intelligent girls who are curious and daring and good-hearted. There is a wrench in your belly - of recognition, or nostalgia. It's appreciation for careful attention paid to a short, mostly underrated phase in the life of women. Suddenly the body armor you've built and polished feels leaden and even cowardly. What seem bold are the characters of Jacqueline Woodson and Pat Murphy, who in their new novels render the knotty friendships of girls with gravity, whimsy, intimacy and melodrama. Both novelists, with their tendency toward straightforward, spare sentences (especially Woodson), create rich worlds with relentless attention to emotional detail. In both books, there are prickly allusions to not fitting inside one's own body. But "After Tupac and D Foster" and "The Wild Girls" aren't novels about first menstrual periods or the cute boy in first period. Instead, the girls in these books encourage one another to write fanciful fiction and tramp through woods, or to take a secret train trip to the big city and back. "It's all quiet now," the unnamed narrator says to her friend Neeka in "After Tupac and D Foster." "You can start working on planning your Big Purpose." These girls have lives. And both books are luscious and dangerous with brand-new moments of self-rule. The girls' rebel fearlessness is without affectation, and tempered by sturdy family ties; they have just begun to realize that the loosening of such cords is even possible. The authors depict the in-between moment - do we still wear matching clothes because we're best friends? do we still play outside? - as the girls' focus on one another, and on their families, becomes sharper and more nuanced with almost every page. The title "After Tupac and D Foster" is more about time frame - the novel takes place between the time the rapper Tupac Shakur was shot and lived in 1994, and then was shot and died in 1996 - than subject matter, which converges around the narrator and her friend Neeka, both girls from solid, if imperfect, families in Queens, and D, their new friend. A lonely, adventurous foster child, D tilts her friends' lives in small but transformative ways. The narrative mostly skips hip-hop's beats and rhymes for the lyrics and loudness of brusque girlhoods, especially the sibling-on-sibling parenting that happens in big families. Youthful parenting, the book murmurs, makes kids grown-ups too soon. At one point, Neeka says to her mother, Irene, "Nobody told you to have all these kids." The narrator is afraid that Neeka will be popped in the mouth by Irene right on the train platform. But Irene cuts to the quick with words. "I guess I should have stopped before I got to you, huh?" Toward the end, D goes away to live with her real mother; the friends don't even learn her real name until she's about to catch the bus. The narrator, though coming to terms with the fact that D's life is not so much romantic as it is complicated, could still agree with something Neeka says early on: "D's cool. She's like from another planet. The Planet of the Free. ... I'm gonna go to that planet one day." "The Wild Girls" winds through a Northern California suburb plush with creeks and culverts. Joan, 12, has just arrived from sedate Connecticut with her parents (quietly selfish father; strong yet depleted mother) and 15-year-old brother, and on a hike into the woods meets a motherless girl named Sarah who calls herself the Queen of the Foxes (her father, created, like so many characters in both novels, with fullness of detail, is a startlingly charming tattooed biker). The girls, responding to each other's lonesomeness, immediately begin catching newts and playing make-believe, and soon graduate to keeping journals and writing stories together that catch the attention of an intense writing instructor at Berkeley. WOODSON, with her tale of three pseudo-tough girls in Queens, cares less about plot than does Murphy, with her longer, more traditionally paced novel about two girls who toughen up by painting their faces with tribalesque "war paint" and learning by the end of the novel that part of growing up is living by one's own axioms, the ones that come from experience: "Sometimes, you gotta believe something crazy," Sarah says, to explain why she obstinately holds on to the idea that her mother, who left the family when she was 2, has turned into an actual fox. "Because all the other things you could believe hurt too much." Joan and Sarah, like the girls of "Tupac," are at the age when ideas like sneaking off alone, especially in the dead of night to stand in a moonlit amphitheater, are an irresistible twitch. There is whooping and squirrel-watching and rock-throwing - on au courant tomboyism that remains free of mocking contemporaries for wearing lip gloss. They are deep in the romance of growing up. Could both these novels, in terms of setting, be more impressionistic and vivid, like those years are? Is there in both a lack of suspense about what will happen? Yes. But in their books Woodson and Murphy have both created moments of humanity that the girls respond to with whole hearts. They wear innocence like polished armor, and it shines. These girls encourage one another to write and tramp through woods, or to take a secret train to the city. Danyel Smith, the editor in chief of Vibe, is the author of "More Like Wrestling" and "Bliss."

  Booklist Review

The summer before D Foster's real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn't dead yet. From this first line in her quiet, powerful novel, Woodson cycles backward through the events that lead to dual tragedies: a friend's departure and a hero's death. In a close-knit African American neighborhood in Queens, New York, the unnamed narrator lives across from her best friend, Neeka. Then D Foster wanders onto the block, and the three 11-year-old girls quickly become inseparable. Because readers know from the start where the plot is headed, the characters and the community form the focus here. A subplot about Neeka's older brother, a gay man serving prison time after being framed for a hate crime, sometimes threatens to overwhelm the girls' story. But Woodson balances the plotlines with subtle details, authentic language, and rich development. Beautifully capturing the girls' passage from childhood to adolescence, this is a memorable, affecting novel about the sustaining power of love and friendship and each girl's developing faith in her own Big Purpose. --Engberg, Gillian Copyright 2008 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

The summer of 1995 brings D Foster away from her foster home to the block where 12-year-olds Neeka and the unnamed narrator reside. The three girls find themselves bonding over parental restrictions and Tupac Shakur, and their developing friendship encourages the girls to embark on a forbidden bus ride off the block. After D returns to her mother's care, Neeka and the narrator find that not even Tupac's death can hold the three of them together. With her colloquial and gentle style, Woodson weaves a tale of burgeoning friendship among three New York girls. Blending equal parts bravado and emotional frailty, D's presence adds a lively element to the solid relationship of the two longtime friends; D quickly becomes the mischievous voice encouraging rebellion. Though authentic, the secondary plot with Neeka's brother breaks the continuity of the story. The unnamed-narrator conceit is odd for Woodson; her work needs no such devices to encourage multiple reads. Walkmans and bootleg tapes solidify the setting of the previous decade, bringing added authenticity to Woodson's satisfying tale of childhood friendship. (Fiction. YA) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
A Newbery Honor Book<br> <br> Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature <br> <br> The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend's lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life that includes loss, foster families and an amount of freedom that makes the girls envious. Although all of them are crazy about Tupac Shakur's rap music, D is the one who truly understands the place where he's coming from, and through knowing D, Tupac's lyrics become more personal for all of them. <p>The girls are thirteen when D's mom swoops in to reclaim D--and as magically as she appeared, she now disappears from their lives. Tupac is gone, too, after another shooting; this time fatal. As the narrator looks back, she sees lives suspended in time, and realizes that even all-too-brief connections can touch deeply.<br> <br> <br> <br></p>
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