Zephaniah (Refugee Boy) paints a vivid picture of the hip-hop music scene and related gang warfare in London, but his message to readers is mixed. While attending an alternative school, three reputed trouble makers ("known for their confrontational behaviour") are given the opportunity to develop their music skills and voice their anger against their school system, their parents and other authority figures. Marga Man, the owner of a local music store, helps 15-year-old Ray and his buddies Tyrone and Prem form a band called the Positive Negatives; they release a hit single and the group is soon on the way to international stardom. The price of their success is high, however. Fans of a rival rap band grow vicious. Live concerts performed by the Positive Negatives become breeding grounds for fights, and the band members receive mysterious, recurring threats. On the one hand, the author clearly communicates the boys' commitment to their music and the ill effects of unleashed violence; on the other hand, his account of the three expelled students becoming overnight stars stretches credibility, and the expression of their anger seems to be the only purpose and goal for their music. Although the book features ultra-hip dialogue, romance and action, unfortunately, readers don't get a sense of the boys' characters or their relationships (to one another or to family members and other friends), and will likely remember the violence more than the author's message. Ages 14-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
I thought that this book would primarily appeal to the hardcore hip-hop fan, but I was wrong. By the end of the book, the reader, whatever his or her musical tastes, cares for Ray and the band. This is not because Ray and his band are particularly easy to empathize with or because there is a teen pregnancy crisis. It's because there is no greater pleasure in the teen world than to read about British boys trying to do the impossible: become a hugely successful hip-hop band. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Bloomsbury, 235p., Trade pb. Ages 12 to 15.
Gr 9 Up-Rebellious in his East London home and deeply alienated from his alcoholic West Indian father, 15-year-old Ray pops off during class, gets expelled, and joins his best friends, outgoing Prem and contemplative Tyrone, who have also been "excluded" from school. All three are passionate hip-hop lovers who hang out in a small music shop run by a sympathetic Jamaican named Marga Man. After they are jailed following a fight, the headmaster decides to enroll them in an alternative program that allows them to pursue their rap interests. Marga Man uses his music contacts to get them started in a band-the Positive Negatives-and they soon become successful. Unfortunately, they attract the attention of a rival band. Spurred on by a greedy promoter, the rappers engage in a deadly gang fight that both groups later regret. With the promoter in jail, they vow to work together to end the violence. Ray is an appealing and multidimensional character, but many of the others are little more than types. Mirroring the culture of "gangsta rap," some of the dialogue is misogynist (girls are referred to as "bitches"), stereotyped (Marga Man speaks a combination of mainstream and pidgin English), and raw. A mixed bag with a wholesome message.-Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.