Brother Hood

Brother Hood

by Janet McDonald

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Nate Whitely's life at a prestigious prep school in upstate New York takes him far from his Harlem home but not so far as to sever the strong bond he has to his neighborhood. Like his prep school friends, Nate is doing well academically and has his sights set on college. But complications from one life intrude into the other. His childhood friend Hustle won't give


Nate Whitely's life at a prestigious prep school in upstate New York takes him far from his Harlem home but not so far as to sever the strong bond he has to his neighborhood. Like his prep school friends, Nate is doing well academically and has his sights set on college. But complications from one life intrude into the other. His childhood friend Hustle won't give up his street-smart ways and doesn't want Nate to either. Nate's older brother, Eli, just can't seem to keep things together and is headed for major trouble. Will Nate be able to sustain these powerful ties without jeopardizing all that he's achieved?

This provocative story about a young man straddling two very different worlds unfolds against a backdrop of brotherhood and betrayal, friendship and loyalty, and captures the dilemma of those who would carve out a unique destiny for themselves.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Nate Whitely has been given the opportunity to attend the prestigious Fletcher prep school on scholarship because of his intelligence and self-motivation. One of the few African-Americans at the school, Nate makes a comfortable place for himself at the school and with classmates of all ethnic backgrounds. But he has not forgotten where he came from, and when he returns to visit his Harlem home, he reverts back into "Harlem-acceptable" language and clothing. Nate's ability to move back and forth between worlds is something he tends to take for granted until he meets Willa, the daughter of wealthy African-American parents; Willa expects Nate to stick to his prep school behaviors and when she meets his friend Hustle, jumps to her own conclusions about "who" Nate really is. The tension is compounded when Nate finds out that his older brother Eli has gotten involved in a number of illegal activities. How Nate responds to both family and friends within these situations is the real strength and interest of this book. This is an excellent book about identity, intermingling of cultures, and loyalty to friends and family. 2004, Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 13 to 18.
—Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
Nate Whitely is Harlem born and bred, but his life takes an unexpected turn when he is invited to go to a prestigious prep school in upstate New York on scholarship. Nate enjoys his school and his new friends. His parents, although reluctant at first, are very proud of all that Nate has accomplished. So why is Nate having difficulties? Maybe it is because his brother Eli cannot seem to stay out of trouble. Perhaps it is because Nate's neighborhood friend Hustle will not stop living the street lifestyle and also does not want Nate to do so. Nate loves Harlem and his friends there, but life soon becomes quite difficult when his two worlds collide, leading to hurt, betrayal, and trouble with the law. McDonald has another bestseller here. She astutely captures not only life in Harlem but also the attitudes and nuances of prep school life. In Nate, she illustrates the chasm between classes and then weds them seamlessly. McDonald deftly makes the point that it is important to remember one's roots but to not let them stand in the way of success. Nate's grappling with jealousy and betrayal is the background for his self-discovery and ultimately his coming-of-age. Teens will immediately identify with Nate's attempting to fit in with every group while trying to discover who and what is fundamentally important to him. This novel will be a surefire hit with teens from all backgrounds. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 176p., $16. Ages 11 to 18.
—Lori Matthews
Nate lives in two very different worlds —he comes from Harlem but attends a prep school in upstate New York. At home, his older brother Eli is dealing drugs and making moves on Nate's girlfriend Shantay, while his old friend Hustle, who boosts and resells clothes, tries to involve Nate in his illegal schemes. At school, Nate is befriended by Spencer, a rich white boy, and starts a relationship with Willa, a beautiful African American girl from a wealthy suburban background. Lacrosse action enlivens the narrative as Nate tries to figure out where he belongs and what his future holds. McDonald, author of Chill Wind, Spellbound, and Twists and Turns, has the dialect of the different parts of Nate's life down pat. She also drops lots of brand names and describes in detail what everyone is wearing, which may not interest every reader. The central issue, however, of uncomfortably straddling different milieus, is something to which many readers may be able to relate. The Beast, by Walter Dean Myers (reviewed in KLIATT in September 2003), is another recent YA novel dealing with this important theme. KLIATT Codes: S—Recommended for senior high school students. 2004, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 176p., Ages 15 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-Nate Whitely, 16, attends an exclusive boarding school on scholarship while trying to remain loyal to his Harlem roots. He gets along equally well in both worlds, with only a quick change from school uniform to do-rag and bomber jacket in the men's room at Grand Central Terminal. Like most of the novel, this symbol of Nate's conflicted identity hits readers over the head. McDonald's painstaking descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of Harlem, though authentic, grow tiresome and precious and take up space better used for character development, which is not to say that she doesn't offer plentiful detail, describing the characters' outfits down to the brand names. Though she may have intended to comment on the branding of teen America, the focus on the characters' fashions pegs them in exactly the stereotypes-thug, preppy, rich bitch, wanna-be-that Nate struggles against. Despite the author's mastery of the cadence and slang of black teenage speech, much of the dialogue is stilted and expository. Only Nate's interaction with Spencer, a Jewish student who passes as a wealthy WASP, is fresh and provocative enough to leave readers wanting more. Walter Dean Myers's The Beast (Scholastic, 2003) is a more graceful and satisfying story of a Harlem teen caught between opportunity and loyalty.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nate's dual life allows him to be comfortable at Fletcher, his exclusive, private boarding school, and on his home territory in Harlem. Different places require different threads, language, and behavior, and Nate switches, chameleon-like, between his two personas. McDonald shows his dexterity and makes clear the ease with which he juggles the two, while simultaneously revealing to the reader the upside and downside of both. The haughty elitism of some classmates and their parents, as well as the outright racism of an opposing lacrosse team, makes clear the difficulties of the situation. There is a lot of exposition about the environment of Harlem at the beginning and characters only slowly reveal themselves. The crucial conflict, which highlights the choices Nate must make and his moral responsibilities in both environments builds from this gradual revelation of each culture. This lacks the depth of romance and lyrical writing that was evidenced in Walter Dean Myers's Beast (2003), but has an authenticity and immediacy that will appeal as well as being a great title for discussion. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Brother Hood
1The high-speed train raced towards the city through woods of poplar and pine, passing local stations, fenced yards, brick houses, and distant, lean horses that vanished from view almost as soon as they came into focus. On a typical Friday afternoon it would be transporting graying professors rustling through papers, restless sales reps negotiating on cell phones, and tired domestics staring out the windows. But on this day, which marked the beginning of a weekend break, the train was bustling with students from the private schools and elite colleges tucked away in the slopes of Edessa Hills, a wealthy community north of Manhattan."All tickets, please," called the conductor. "Have your tickets ready."He reached the last row of the car and repeated himself.The passenger didn't respond. Bent over his book, he was aware of nothing but a panicked Raskolnikov crouched behind a door with noises on the stairwell and bodies a few feet away from him on the floor. The young man had close-cropped hair and was wearing a freshly ironed white dress shirt, a tan tie, black slacks, and the obligatory black blazer with the Fletcher School crest emblazoned on the breast pocket."Ticket ... please."Nathaniel Whitely jumped, then handed over his ticket. He had been engrossed in the novel they were reading in his literature classics course.The conductor punched two little holes in the student's ticket and moved into the next car calling, "Tickets! Your tickets, please!"A blond head popped up over the seat in front of Nathaniel's. It belonged to Spencer Adams, the lacrosse team's goalkeeper, and the younger student's mentor and French tutor. His school blazer swung from a window hook. The hazel Izod dress shirt he was wearing was nicely laundered, the black Brooks Brothers tie was silk, and the Cottonport twill khakis were perfectly crisp."Oh, that's what you're doing. I was wondering why the guy had to keep asking for your ticket. What's got you hypnotized?"Nathaniel held his place with his finger. "Crime and Punishment. This guy Raskolnikov, a law student no less, killed two old women for money, then somebody shows up outside their unlocked door while he's still inside. He barely manages to get the latch on in time. That's where I was when the conductor appeared. I'm sweating through my shirt. What's crazy is that he did it mostly to prove to himself he could get away with it--you know, the perfect murder kind of thing. That's sick.""I loved that book, even though the guy's a jerk. At least he's more interesting than Holden Caulfield, whom you'll get to know and loathe if you take sociology next year. He's the main character in Catcher in the Rye, this whiny, shallow boy with major hostility issues and an unwarranted superiority complex. You're supposed to feel sorry that he's alienated and lonely, but he's so obnoxious you want him to end up in the Central Park lake with the ducks he's so worried about. If I carried on like him, you know what my dad would do to me?""Yep. You've told me a hundred times.""Heir today, gone tomorrow," they both said at once, laughing so hard a couple of passengers couldn't help but smile.Adams Global Electronics, a major manufacturer of electronic products, had provided two generations ofthe Adams clan with the kind of sumptuous lifestyle that only the most monied white Anglo-Saxon Protestant moguls could buy. Private jets flew the family to European capitals, where they stayed in homes they actually owned. A small army of domestic staff ensured that none of the children would ever learn to cook a meal, clean a room, or fix a broken toy. As if a room with video games, a DVD player, two digital video cameras, a flat-screen TV, and a luxury cell phone with MP3 player, photo caller ID, and a stereo earpiece weren't enough, Spencer not only was already guaranteed a spot at Harvard, he was also due to inherit a fortune on his twenty-first birthday.The train heaved to a stop. Commuters in light coats carried computer cases and lugged shopping bags through the aisles. The man who'd been asleep next to Nathaniel opened his eyes suddenly as if an alarm had gone off, snatched his briefcase from the overhead rack, and hurried to the door. Spencer hopped into the empty seat."Look out that window, Nathaniel. See those cool cars parked over there, Alfa Romeos, Benzes, Jaguars? See those lovely ladies inside waiting for their husbands? See those three-story colonials in the distant bucolic hills? And the bright sun beaming down approvingly on it all? That's our future you're looking at. My ancestors founded this country, yours built it, albeitagainst their will and for that I offer my profoundest apologies. But today, in this moment, you're what, sixteen?, and I'm seventeen. Cool. Today our destiny is one--shaped by Fletcher, honed at Harvard, and released on the world to rule!""Yeah, right. You're tripping like that megalomaniac Raskolnikov. And anyway, I want a Hummer. Silver-gray.""Hummers are tacky. And Raskolnikov's a loser. A broke Russian peasant turned failed law student who knocks off a couple of defenseless old broads for a handful of rubles, then freaks out and confesses. Violence doesn't make you superior, it makes you common. Everyone's violent. It's boring. We are decidedly not common. We are Fletcher Falcons! And like golden flèches we shoot straight to the bull's-eye.""Maybe your flesh is golden, Adams ... Mine is black.""Flèche, Nathaniel, flèche. How are you gonna learn French if you won't study the vocabulary words I give you?!"Nathaniel laughed. "Oh, you mean flèche, as in arrow."Spencer Adams and Nathaniel Whitely rode into Grand Central Terminal, the one chatting on his cell, the other reading. The world they shared abruptly split apart the moment the train came to a stop. They shookhands and said, "See ya." Spencer hurried towards the taxi-stand exit. Nathaniel headed in the opposite direction. It was funny, he and Spencer had become friends right away when he first arrived at Fletcher as a freshman. And they both lived in New York, but neither had ever invited the other to his home. It just never came up, as if they had an understanding, an unspoken agreement.When Nathaniel was sure he'd blurred into the rush-hour throng, he stopped and waited at the four-faced clock. A young woman with long black hair and a cashmere coat asked him how to get to the concourse photo exhibition. He said he didn't know. She smiled. Thanks anyway. A police officer on foot patrol nodded at him. Nathaniel returned the nod. An old man breathing hard tapped Nathaniel's arm. How the hell, he wanted to know, did one get out of this place? Nathaniel showed him to the nearest exit and scanned the vast terminal. Spencer was long gone, maybe already at his parents' East 86th Street town house. Confident he wouldn't be seen, Nathaniel took the ramp to the lower level, his crammed knapsack slung over his shoulder, and headed to the men's room. 
Moments later, he strolled out of the men's room and made his way through the long, busy corridors that ledto the Times Square--bound shuttle. Now he was met with nervous looks and wary glances from some--most simply stared straight ahead. As if they weren't scrutinizing him. As if they weren't measuring the potential threat. As if from the corners of their eyes they weren't keenly aware of every move of the homeboy. The Fletcher School student had stripped off the private-school uniform and donned full urban regalia. Precariously low denim jeans dangled off his hips underneath an oversized black sweatshirt and red leather bomber. A white nylon do-rag hung like a blond mane from beneath a black cap turned slightly to the side. As a final touch, he'd put on a pair of Police brand shades.Waiting on the packed platform of the IRT uptown number 2 train, Nathaniel smiled to himself at the empty space left around him and the other young black guys waiting, a circle outside of which safely stood the other straphangers. A crowded train squealed to a stop. Those eager to push their way into the cars eyed those desperate to get out. The doors opened and a chaos of intimacy ensued as the two groups shoved, squeezed, and slid against each other. Nathaniel liked the forced closeness of the subway, the way it made people say polite things like "Excuse me" and "Oops, sorry," even if purely out of fear.Packed in as they were, the passengers had nopersonal space to jealously guard, only their simple, vulnerable humanity seeking respect. And no one respected it more than Nathaniel. Maybe that trait came from the way his parents had raised him and his brother--to look out for each other and for their friends and neighbors as well. On the subway, if he saw an old person or a little kid or a girl getting crushed, he'd use his body like a barrier to keep a cushion of space around them. They rarely noticed but it made him feel good to do it.The subway train roared through the dark tunnel, snips of colorful tags and graffiti art flitting by like images in a child's cartoon flipbook. Riders leaned against doors marked DO NOT LEAN or grasped the overhead handles, swaying with the car's movement. People reading newspapers artfully unfolded a half page at a time. Those lucky enough to be sitting closed their eyes or stole looks at whoever wasn't looking at them. Some read books, glancing with irritation at neighbors listening to music so loud it blasted from their headphones. The space above the sooty windows was papered with ads in English and Spanish touting every completely safe procedure, incredible opportunity, and low-cost service from affordable cosmetic surgery to accredited business schools specializing in the careers of tomorrow to lawyers to call immediately in case of an accident in the workplace.When the train at last reached his stop, it was full of black and brown folks traveling to Harlem and on to the Bronx. The only white riders left were a scattering of Columbia University students drawn to cheap uptown housing. Maneuvering through the crowd, Nathaniel took the steps two at a time and came out onto 125th Street in the heart of Harlem, USA.Copyright © 2004 by Janet McDonald

Meet the Author

Janet McDonald (1953-2007) is the author of the adult memoir Project Girl. She is the author of three books set in the Brooklyn projects: Chill Wind, for which she received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; Spellbound, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; and Twists and Turns, an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and lived in Paris, France.

I was born after midnight during a thunderstorm. The taxi speeding my mother to the hospital broke down on a Brooklyn street, and another had to be hailed. Meanwhile, I tried to kick my way out of the dark, dank crawl space of her stomach, undoubtedly in a prenatal panic. As if that weren’t bad enough, once I get here I find that I’ve been given a humiliatingly weird middle name -- Arneda -- and that I am going to grow up not in the spacious, airy home I dreamed about in the womb but in a small apartment in the projects that I will eventually share with four brothers, two sisters, and two parents. Can we say, Bummed Out at an Early Age?!
So I’m like, “Fine, whatever.” I figure it this way: there’s clearly been a mistake, but it will be corrected. No way was I supposed to have the mean older sister who left greasy clumps of nappy hair in my brush, the stern, grumpy father whose thundering voice frightened me out of asking for allowance, the scary neighbors who did scary things to each other, and the jealous classmates who hated me because I was nerdy enough to get A’s in everything, even conduct (that didn’t last, but I’ll spare you the grim details). There had been no mistake -- this was going to be my life. My initial reaction was, “You have to be kidding!” Indeed, I bet somebody probably was kidding when he stuck me in that mess and was somewhere laughing his divine little head off. “Ha ha ha, here comes Janet. We’ll make her female in a man’s world, left-handed in a right-handed society, poor in a country that reveres wealth, bookwormish in the projects, and -- what else? -- black! Oh, she has to be black in America. Ha, ha, ha! Let’s see how she handles all that!”

What do you do when your life is set up to be as rough as possible? You just have to focus on the good parts. Like the fact that your parents are great cooks. And your older brother, the jock, lets you hang out with him and play sports. And your little brother is really cool and your best friend. And reading takes you completely out of your dreary world and into excitement, adventure, and fun. I got out of the projects and into books, which is where I’ve remained. Wouldn’t you? Books took me to college, then to law school, then to journalism school . . . People in my neighborhood started calling me a professional student. And then books took me over completely and I began writing my own. Along the way I worked as a proofreader in a law firm (the only job I ever liked), a paralegal in a law firm (the first job I ever hated), and a lawyer in a law firm (the job that lets me travel the world). I moved from Brooklyn to Seattle and then to Paris, France. My life still occasionally seems like a bad joke, but as a writer I can at least live other people’s lives while I wait out the storm of my own.

Janet McDonald (1953-2007) is the author of the adult memoir Project Girl. She is the author of three books set in the Brooklyn projects: Chill Wind, for which she received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; Spellbound, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; and Twists and Turns, an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and lived in Paris, France.

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