Myers's (Monster) compellingly readable novel in verse unfolds through an array of characters, all linked by Damien Battle and Junice Ambers who both live in Harlem but come from very different worlds. Damien has been accepted to Brown University; Junice's mother has been sentenced to 25 years for possession and drug dealing. A pair of early rap poems set up a rivalry between Damien and Sledge (whose "crew... wore their colors"), and also Damien's fascination with a "beauty" who "walks darkly, as if her mind weighs down/ Her steps," later revealed to be Junice. Myers crafts some memorable moments here, as when Junice describes her mother ("She gave freely/ To those in need, or to those who, like/ Her, were broken, and needed a fix") or when Miss Ruby, Junice's grandmother, expresses grief for her convicted daughter in a blues poem ("Yeah, it's hard, baby/ It's hard right down to the bone/ I said Oh, it's hard baby/ It's hard right down to the very bone/ It's hard when you're a woman/ And you find yourself all alone") and the banter between Damien and a buddy. Yet some readers may wish for a deeper understanding of what draws Damien to Junice, and why he risks his own family's upheaval and his future at Brown for this new romance. Though both Damien and Junice come off as sympathetic characters, their attraction to each other remains a mystery. Ages 12-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Kathy Starks
Myers ventures into the popular style of novels written in verse with his latest offering. With its dazzling, graffiti-esque cover and rap-like rhythms, the novel transforms the Romeo and Juliet story into an episode from the here and now. Damien is The Hero, "wearing his seventeen years easily around broad shoulders." A chance encounter with Junice, the troubled Beauty, sends his life in a new direction, much to the dismay of his ambitious mother, who expects great things of him, including advanced degrees and marriage to Roxanne. Junice has little energy to cultivate a new relationship with Damien, despite her attraction to his sweet smile and gentle nature. She must care for her younger sister and elderly grandmother when her mother is sent to prison for possession and distribution of drugs. The novel's format allows the reader to peer directly into the thoughts and feelings of the main characters, as in "Junice and Melissa" when Junice says, "I have to open my sister's mouth / And fill it with thoughts as hard / As stones so she can practice her lines / She needs to speak clearly / As she lies." The action is set using poem titles such as "Junice Ambers looking From the Window of the Bus" and "Damien Standing on the Platform, waiting for the Uptown 2." Myers's experiment with the verse form may surprise some, but hip-hop fans, readers of poetry, and hopeless romantics will respond to the emotional vibrancy of this powerful work.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Isaacs
College-bound 17-year-old Damien Battle is a Harlem success story in the making, but when he connects with streetwise Junice Ambers, he embraces a whole new world. In a varied series of carefully crafted poems, free verse, and rap in different voices, a master writer brings freshness to an old story. Will their love be strong enough to withstand the obstacles set up by their family and class differences as well as the decisions of the New York family court? Myers is wise enough to leave that question unanswered, focusing on the emotional dance as they slowly come together. The gritty city background is clear but not obtrusive; the contrast between Damien's dreams of success and his rival Sledge's embrace of hate is presented early on, as is the contrast between his successful family and the dissolution of Junice's when her mother is sentenced to 35 years in jail for drug-dealing. The form of the narrative allows readers to get inside the head of both participants and onlookers. For the adult reader, like Damien's parents, the tragic waste of his promise is akin to Romeo's death; for teens, the romance of this accessible love story will probably be the attraction.
KLIATT - KLIATT Review
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2006: Myers employs the novel-in-free-verse format to tell a wrenching but ultimately hopeful story of teenage love set in Harlem. Damien, age 17, already admitted to Brown University, is attracted to 16-year-old Junice, whose mother has just been sent to prison for 25 years for drug possession and distribution. Wrestling with anger and grief, Junice is determined to protect her younger sister Melissa and not be taken under the wing of the Department of Family Services. She fights her attraction to Damien at first; she's concerned her troubles will overwhelm him. Damien, meanwhile, is in a "manhood jam" with Sledge, a classmate who taunts him and says he's slept with Junice, and they get into a fight. Love conquers all in the end, when Junice and Melissa head off to Memphis to live with a distant relative and Damien runs off to go with them. Told from different viewpoints--not just those of Damien and Junice, but also their family members, friends, and a social worker--this deeply felt, poignant story is told in deft strokes, with memorable language and some rap cadences. Both male and female YAs will be able to relate to it, and the tale's brevity and evocation of strong emotions will give it appeal to reluctant readers as well. Another winner from the acclaimed author of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, Monster, and many other YA titles. Age Range: Ages 12 to 18. REVIEWER: Paula Rohrlick (Vol. 42, No. 1)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-The swift flow of these short poems carries readers along in thoughts, conversations, and scenes as Damien and Junice's romance begins. He is a high achiever who has been accepted to Brown University and is expected to go far. Junice has just lost her mother to prison and is trying to keep her younger sister and her grandmother together as a family. Damien and Junice question who they are and who they will become. Hip-hop-style phrases feel like Shakespeare telling of these African-American teens in Harlem, struggling to keep it together. Intellect meets Street as true love conquers all. This is a quick and satisfying read, simple and timeless.-Corinda J. Humphrey, Los Angeles Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Adult and young-adult aficionados of Myers's work will find this new offering revisits issues close to the author's heart: place (Harlem with all its love and squalor), race and the court system (you've got trouble if you're black and poor and in front of a judge), values for boys of color (street crime or achievement) and love of the community. This verse novel, in which entire poems dazzle readers with rhyme and rhythm and voice, finds Damien, a straight-A student, headed for Brown University. But he falls in love with Junice, a girl whose mother has just been incarcerated for selling drugs, and his direction could change. Readers enjoy multiple perspectives on this romance and the decision Damien makes. A cliffhanger conclusion might give some diehard fans the need to reflect and accept the unexpected. This quasi-Romeo and Juliet will easily find its place alongside Sharon Mills Draper's Romiette and Julio (1999), Myers's short story, "Kitty and Mack: a Love Story," West Side Story and of course, the Shakespearean play itself. (Fiction. YA)
Read an Excerpt
By Walter Myers
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2006 Walter Myers
All right reserved.
Autumn in Harlem.
Fume-choked leaves, already
Yellowed, crack in the late September
Breeze. Weeds, city tough, city brittle,
Push defiantly along the concrete edges
Of Malcolm X Boulevard. On 137th Street
A toothless sidewalk vendor neatly stacks
His dark knit caps beside the plastic cell
Phone covers. Shadows indistinct in August heat
Now deepen and grow long across
The wide streets. Homeless men sniff the air and
Know that somewhere the Hawk stirs.
Harlem is not an easy place
To grow old, and so the young
Pouring from the buses, city dancing
To the rhythms of the street,
City dancing to the frantic spin of life
In the fast lane.
Excerpted from Street Love by Walter Myers Copyright © 2006 by Walter Myers. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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