What They Found: Love on 145th Street
"Looking in the mirror, I saw what I always saw, plain old me. Short hair sticking out all over my head like it ain't never seen a comb, lips too big, eyes puffy from being up all night. There ain't nothing pretty about me. I'm sixteen, and I got a baby, but that doesn't mean I'm some kind of freak. And I've never been a whore…. Money don't come knocking on your door if you poor and black."
That's Letha speaking, one of the most compelling protagonists I've encountered in young adult fiction in quite some time. Along with Keisha, Eddie, John Carroll and their families, Letha is one of the full-fleshed, three-dimensional characters with whom Walter Dean Myers populates 145th Street, his Harlem block that, like some kind of teen Sesame Street, represents all the possibilities and difficulties of kids growing up in contemporary urban America. WHAT THEY FOUND is a complex and engrossing series of interconnected stories that you will find difficult to put aside until you’ve digested every single page thoroughly and genuinely. They will haunt you well after you've closed the back cover.
So much of young adult fiction aims to reflect the real-life mores and languages of children today. However, so few of these novels actually find a voice so authentic that it resonates well past your first reading of their stories. WHAT THEY FOUND is a unique and utterly artful exception, as it doesn't strive to give one character a specific voice that seems to come out of real life; it actually succeeds in finding many.
Walter Dean Myers has been lauded with many accolades, including two Newbery Honors and five Coretta Scott King Awards, and rightly so. The simple and elegant prose, the genuine and heartfelt first-person narratives and the evocative background of 145th Street that canopies the entire collection will knock your literary socks off. Myers knows his way around the not-so-nice parts of growing up urban (teen pregnancy, young love on the streets) and the rather upsetting aspects of this world we are living in right now (young men fighting in Iraq, trying hard to get out of a bad situation). His every word is doled out with intent and just cause; there is no wayward purple prose in the love stories, and a certain slapstick element makes the funny stuff even funnier than you would expect.
Myers is a real artist, and if there ever was a piece of young adult fiction that needed to be adapted into a film that would speak to millions of teens in words and emotions they truly could relate to, WHAT THEY FOUND is it. There is a motion in these stories that carries you through them, from situation to situation, with startling clarity and an acceleration of emotional content that leaves you breathless.
"There might never be a complete understanding of what they had shared in those frantic moments, or what they had given up of themselves. Or what they had found." From the evocative silhouettes of the young lovers on the front cover, placed against a startling orange background, to these direct last words, a positive end to a war/love story, WHAT THEY FOUND is a stunning piece of work.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on September 11, 2007