Walter Dean Myers --- National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Winner and the first Michael L. Printz Award recipient --- has climbed to even greater heights with his latest work, STREET LOVE. A fluid mixture of poetry and prose, this sweeping book is filled with such gorgeous imagery, street-talk language and beatific, soul-stirring rhythm that just one read-through will surely take readers' breath away.
A bittersweet, tell-it-like-it-is love story between two Harlem teens, STREET LOVE aims straight for the jugular and eloquently hits its mark. Sixteen-year-old Damien has risen above his gang-infested environment and is on the track for success. He gets excellent grades, he's been accepted to Brown University, and his parents want nothing more than for him to get off the streets and make them proud.
But Damien has other ideas: "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/While I look down from Sugar Hill and tell/Myself how phat my program is." He has his eyes set on a different kind of future, possibly one with Junice --- the unknown, quiet beauty he's seen around the neighborhood.
Junice, however, lives a disparate life than what Damien is accustomed to. Her mother is in the Bedford Hills Prison for drug possession --- a 25-year sentence. Her sister, Melissa, is too young to take care of herself, and her grandmother, Miss Ruby, can barely remember her own name. Both her grandfather and father have long been out of the picture. In a word, she is slowly being eaten alive by her past and the pasts of the downtrodden before her. "No, it is all cycle and recycle/What the great-grandmother has done/Is to rut the earth for her children/What the grandmother has done/Is to widen the furrow for her children/What the mother has done/Is to square the pit/Deepening it for the ritual to come/And here I sit, grave deep among the/Waiting worms, staking my claim/As they stake theirs."
As Damien begins wooing her, and Junice --- however fierce her trepidation --- unwittingly gives her assent, the two struggle to fight their virtually non-existent odds in order to make a worthwhile life for themselves. At the novel's close, the outcome of their future together is left open-ended, although they have both sacrificed greatly to give it their best shot. "We will make it...I plan to survive."
STREET LOVE is nothing short of extraordinary. Myers's talent for turning words on end to spin phrase after powerful phrase is truly amazing --- his alliterations and cadenced pairing will roll off the tongue, beckoning to be read aloud. The virtually insurmountable weight of repression and despair that haunts inner-city living is evident on every page of this novel, yet there is a touch of the effervescent that sets this story afloat. The hope for a better life carries the characters through and bestows this otherwise grim tale with a glimmer of much-longed-for possibility.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on November 1, 2006