Monday, February 23, 2009

2009 Newbery Honor Award: After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

We loved D because she was our girl and because she'd been to places and seen things me and Neeka probably weren't ever gonna see. Even though Flo had her on lockdown at night, D also had all this freedom in the daytime. Mostly I was the quiet one in our group, the Brain. Mostly I watched and listened. But I could watch until I was ninety-nine and I'd never be able to see what D saw.

"The way I figure it," D said, "we all just out in the world trying to figure out our Big Purpose.

I know I got this Big Purpose. And when I know what it is exactly, I'm coming right to y'all with the news."

Eleven years old, the unnamed narrator and her best friend Neeka dress alike and spend all their time together on their close knit Queens block, where their watchful moms keep them firmly under their thumbs. Into this circumscribed world D Foster suddenly appears one day, a girl who lives with her foster mother Flo and is free to roam until her curfew at nine each night. The three become close, and the narrator and Neeka slowly learn bits of D's very different personal history--her mother who alternately abandoned her and reappeared, a long drab time in a crowded group home, and her terrifying experience with a foster mother who locked her in a closet and starved her for days at a time. The two sheltered girls envy D's freedom to visit any part of New York she chooses, but it is obvious that D longs to have her mother back and to be lovingly protected as her friends are. The music of Tupac Shakur forms the background of their growing friendship as the three become young teenagers, but D feels a special bond to his songs:

"It's like I look at him and I see myself. It's like I'm looking in a mirror.

It's like he sees stuff, you know? And he knows stuff. And he be thinking stuff that only somebody who knows that kinda living deep and true could know and think."

And then as the girls begin to look forward to high school and the rest of their lives, Tupac is shot and dies and D Foster's mom suddenly reappears and takes her upstate to live. The two old friends still have each other, but they are growing up, too, and no one now takes them for sisters even in their new matching outfits. Their Big Purpose, like D's, is still somewhere out there before them; but they see their own families differently now and somehow feel that the time of their friendship with D has changed them forever.

Jacqueline Woodson's 2009 Newbery Honor book, After Tupac and D Foster (Newbery Honor Book), (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2008) is a quiet, spare, but intimate account of three girls who, despite their differences, form a permanent bond with each other. Although the setting in a stable African American neighborhood in Queens forms the matrix of the characters' lives, the theme of a maturing friendship is universal.

Woodson is one of the most honored of current young adult writers, having won the Newbery Honor Award for Feathers (Newbery Honor Book) in 2008 and for Show Way (Newbery Honor Book) in 2006, a Caldecott Honor Award for Coming On Home Soon set during World War II, National Book Award nominations for Hush and Locomotion, and, among others, the Coretta Scott King Award for Miracle's Boys. For reviews of her work, see my several posts here.

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