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Posted September 30, 2002
Persea Books, a New York City based publishing company has come out with Big City Cool, an anthology of fourteen short stories about growing up in urban America. From New York City to San Diego, California, these extraordinary cameos capture the voices, sounds and feel of big-city life. They are unfailingly poignant and gut-wrenchingly real. Amy Tan¿s "Rules of the Game," a first-person singular narrative, explores life in San Francisco¿s Chinatown. When Waverly Jong is six years old her mother "taught the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually¿chess games." Soon, "Meimei" becomes Chinatown¿s chess champion, and by her ninth birthday she is a national chess champion. But even chess champions have problems. Tan richly describes life on Waverly Place. Her incomparable delicacy when dealing with anger and her ability to make even the most mundane moments ring with poetry are only some of the reasons this story fascinates. Eugenia Collier¿s story, "Dead Man Running," is set in Baltimore, MD. This is a world where children know too much, a world where endings aren¿t always happy. "At the first gunshot the children dropped their toys and dashed toward the house screaming. They knew the sound of gunshots." Jazzy, a low-level drug dealer has witnessed a murder. The narrator observes that "In a few violent seconds, way less than a minute, his life had been forever changed. As long as Nick was on the streets, Jazzy was as good as dead." Persuaded by a young woman prosecutor, he identifies Nick, hoping he will be sent to prison. However, Nick is found "not guilty" and returned to the street, and Jazzy begins running. Strong stuff! Walter Dean Myers sends a clear message in "Block Party ¿ 145th Street Style." After a neighbor is evicted, a young girl, Peaches, shows kindness and a wisdom far beyond her years. "This is 145th Street," she says. "Hurt happens here just like everywhere else. Sometimes you can deal with, sometimes you just got to get some help." Myers allows the to dialogue move the plot forward with no unnecessary clutter. This is a finely drawn portrait of some likeable kids in Harlem trying to make sense out of their situations. It doesn¿t sentimentalize despair, yet we feel it. At the same time, it allows us to feel hopeful, for them and for ourselves. The other ten stories in the book are equally compelling character-sketches, filled with young people of all backgrounds ¿ "immigrants or native-born, privileged or poor." In his or her own way, each learns to cope with the conflicts of life in today¿s urban world. You don¿t have to be from the city to appreciate these stories. Suburban and country kids will be able to understand their urban counterparts and learn from them. --SJHWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.