As a Young Adult librarian, I inwardly (barely) frown upon any teenager's craving for the so-called street/hip-hop/urban fiction that has become a force to be reckoned with in the literary world. These books glorify an opportunisitic, materialistic, sexist, violent, and sometimes criminal world that teens live or wish to live. Lest you think me some suburb-rised cultural elitest, let me set you straight. I'm straight up 'hood born and 'hood raised. I've seen some of these stories close up in real life and there's nothing good about them, so I'm baffled by the embrace of them.
Tyrell, Coe Booth's debut novel, is urban/street/ghetto fiction taken to a higher level. It exposes the ugly side of project-life, hustling, and using sex as a tool. The protagonist, 15-year-old Tyrell, is trying to keep his family and life together as he is trying to escape homelessness. But he is constantly angered and frustrated by a trifling mom, an incarcerated dad, a mistrustful girlfriend, and a needy female pal. Yet, by the end of the story, Tyrell finds light at the end of the tunnel.
The ending doesn't pretend that the rest of Tyrell's life (or his little brother's, mother's, father's or friends') won't be a hard struggle, but it does give hope that Tyrell won't succumb to the vices (emotional and physical) that traps everyone around him. Tyrell is both sad and uplifting without being preachy. It is the perfect realistic fiction for today's teens.