Book Review: The Rose That Grew from Concrete

Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack
in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned 2 walk
without having feet
Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams
it learned 2 breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else even cared!

I picked up The Rose That Grew from Concrete, a collection of Tupac’s poetry that he wrote from 1989-1991 (so he was 19-21), after Susan over at BES reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s After Tupac and D Foster. At first, I was going to read Woodson’s book, but then I saw Tupac’s poetry on the shelf and knew I had to read it first.

What can I say about Tupac Shakur? I remember watching the “Brenda’s Got a Baby” video on The Jukebox Network. I saw Juice (and Gridlock’d) in the theater. I remember his road trip with Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice. I remember his guest spot on A Different World playing Jada Pinkett’s best friend from home who didn’t quite get college her and why she was going out with a boy who wanted to wait for marriage to have sex. I remember explaining to my mom how much I loved “I Get Around” even though I knew it was so problematic (and it’s still my favorite 2Pac song).

I remember finding out his mom was a Black Panther (yay!) who spent most of his youth addicted to crack (boo).

I remember when he joined Death Row; I remember the feud.

And I absolutely, 100% remember where I was when I found out he had been killed. It was my freshman year of college, and I was riding around with my friend, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. And Tupac Shakur was dead.

But mostly I remember riding around in the car with one of my close friends who loved his music, rapping along with the windows down after work. I also remember when the Don Killuminati album came out, and I was in this boy’s dorm room, listening to the first few seconds of the CD over and over because he was convinced that if you listened closely enough, you could hear Tupac say, “Suge shot me.” Seriously. Over and over again. (This same boy also listened to “Hit ‘Em Up” over and over, but that’s because it’s funny.)

So that’s what reading Tupac’s poetry was for me: a trip down memory lane. It made me remember what I knew about him and about my experiences with his music.

The foreword (written by Nikki Giovanni) promises to show Tupac’s “sensitive soul”—a soul Giovanni says people want to obscure and overlook because “after all, if he loves, if he cries, if he cares, if he, in other words, is not a monster, then what have we done?” (Tupac’s bio is largely about the trouble he got into with the law. Make of that what you will.)

Sometimes when I’m alone
I cry because I’m on my own
It’s painful and sad and sometimes I cry
and no one cares about why.

Here’s what I know: Tupac died too young. But he also expected it. The last poem “In the Event of My Demise” addresses this expectation directly:

I will die before my time
Because I feel the shadow’s depth
So much I wanted 2 accomplish
Before I reached my death

He was only 25 when he died, which I didn’t know at the time. I thought he was much older because, for me, he had been around so long. I knew he was young, but my 17-year-old mind thought he was in his thirties at least.

But my experience of reading the book tells you nothing about the book. It’s set up interestingly with the handwritten poem on the left and a typewritten poem on the right. Reading the poetry online does not provide the same experience because some of the line breaks are wrong, which I discovered when I searched for a link to the book. For example, in the title poem, one site had the first line break after “grew,” which totally changes the meaning of the poem (hello, there’s a reason “crack” is the last word on the first line). So, if you want to read Tupac’s poetry, I highly recommend reading the book, and NOT finding the poems online.

My favorite poems are the ones about his mother because you can totally feel his heartache coming through. One is “When Ure Hero Falls” which lets you see the complicated relationship he has with mom, and then there’s a poem dedicated to crack called “U R Ripping Us Apart!!!” which also talks about his hero. It’s just really sad. I’m glad she got clean and they did repair their relationship before he passed away.

There are also poems about love and women. There’s a poem about his girlfriend’s miscarriage, about his resistance to government assistance. There are a couple of poems dedicated to Jada, which I’ll admit, made me smile. Poems about bravado and heartache. Poems that run the gamut.

I’ll admit, part of the charm of reading the poems it that they’re by Tupac. Because, honestly, some read like emo poetry that a nineteen-year-old might post on his MySpace page or blog or as his AIM away message.

I don’t think the content or sensitivity would really be a surprise to anyone who actually listened to Tupac’s music. He had songs about teen moms and loving his mother and saying good-bye to people.

I’m not so sure how the book would read to a non-fan of Tupac, or someone who wasn’t a participant of his generation of music. As I said, quite a bit of it reads as emo poetry. But I think anyone interested in Tupac as a figure should definitely read this book to hear about Tupac and what he thought as a young man in his own words. It definitely adds a different dimension to the persona of him as a “gangsta rapper” (as soon I typed that “Gangsta Party” popped in my head. True story).

But 2morrow I c change
A chance to build anew
Built on spirit, intent of heart
and ideals based on truth

POC Reading Challenge: 11/15

Book Review: Kitty Kitty

That’s right.  Someone was suffering from Acute Crazy in the room, but it wasn’t me.

In Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe (the sequel to Bad Kitty), Jasmine is back.  This time, she’s in Venice, Italy because her father is researching soap (hence the accusation of Acute Crazy), her new friend Arabella involves her in a mystery, and wacky hijinks ensue.

What I Liked

– Honestly, my favorite thing about the book is that everyone is so smart and contributes to the team.  Jasmine is interested in forensic science so she knows how to collect evidence with whatever’s in the room.  Polly is a fashion designing prodigy, and Roxy is a gadget mastermind who can make, well, anything.  Even Jasmine’s Evil Hench cousin Alyson has a stealth specialty that’s revealed in the book.  And then Veronique (Alyson’s friend) and Tom (Roxy’s twin brother) are there for moral support, I guess.  I’m not entirely sure what they do besides being nice and extremely good-looking, respectively.  The point is:  smart people are awesome.

– The book is a lot of fun.  Even when it gets heavy (there’s a murder), there’s a lot of comedy.  It’s like if Psych were about a bunch of teenaged MacGyvers, all with different specialties.

– There’s interesting groundwork laid for the next book, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

– The plot just zips along.  I read most of it in one sitting.

– I like that there’s no real malice in the relationship between Alyson and Jasmine.  Even though they clearly annoy each other and tease one another, it’s not really as nasty as it could be.  I believe that Alyson would help Jasmine the way she does and that Jasmine would include Alyson the way she does.  So that’s nice.

What I Didn’t Like

– The footnotes irritate me so much.  I don’t think they really add to the story at all, and I feel like most of what’s in them (random conversations) could just be a part of the text.

– There are points where the humor feels a little forced and like Jaffe is trying too hard.  There’s a running joke about adding “o” to the end of words to make them sound Italian, and aftero le whileo, it just got le lame-o.

In conclusion:  The footnotes are easy enough to ignore if you want to, and the book is breezy and a quick read.  It’s perfect for beach/pool reading or if you just want a light read after, say, reading a bunch of books about World War II.  Also, there are awesome female characters to be found, most of them of color.

YA Reading Challenge:  14/75; POC Reading Challenge:  10/15

Book Review: Just One Wish

Sometimes when I watch Teen Robin Hood–and, okay, I admit I’ve never missed an episode–I feel a connection with Steve Raleigh.  I feel like he’s someone I already know, someone who fits with me.

I enjoyed the two books of Janette Rallison’s I picked up on a whim, so when I saw Just One Wish on the breakout shelf in the library, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  In it, Annika tries to make her six-year-old brother Jeremy’s one wish (to meet his favorite TV character, Robin Hood) come true.

What I Liked

– I am really pleased that this is not a fantasy novel, but it still has adventure and a very proactive female character.  Some of the situations Anikka gets herself into are completely ridiculous–I’m talking That’s So Raven levels of craziness–which makes the book a lot of fun.

– This book has a lot of heart.  A lot.  It would be easy for the book to be maudlin given that Jeremy’s cancer drives Anikka’s story, but it’s not.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments, but, overall, this is not a depressing story at all.

– There’s an underlying religious theme that really works well in the novel.  Anikka is angry with God, so they’re not on speaking terms, and while the book does touch a little on faith, I like that it’s not that she’s given up on God completely.  She’s just unsure and confused and, of course, scared.  That thread running through makes the resolution really work.

– The romance is believable.

– Anikka is pretty and unconcerned with being pretty (see:  brother with cancer), but the book doesn’t ignore that being pretty gives her certain privileges and advantages.  Ultimately, though, it’s not just that she’s charming and pretty, but that she’s smart and athletic that helps her through the narrative.

– The book is a super fast read.  I pretty much finished it in two days.

– The first chapter is a master class in characterization and plotting.

What I Didn’t Like

– I would’ve liked to see more with Anikka’s best friend, Madison.  She’s really present in the beginning of the story but then drops out towards the end.  That they get separated is essential to the plot, and I get that, but I just would’ve liked to see a little more of that.

In conclusion:  Rallison has solidified herself as a favorite for me.  I enjoy her brand of feminism, and I really enjoy the situations her characters get into.  Fun with a lot of heart is a good combination for me.

YA Reading Challenge:  13/75

Book Review: The Book Thief

“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.”

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief, critically acclaimed, was recommended to me by someone I trust, and I promised her I would read it.  And that’s what I did for about a month, with a break over the weekend to read two other books.

What can I say about The Book Thief?  It’s well-written to be sure, the characters are well- and fully-drawn.  The setting is clear and vibrant.  Set in Nazi Germany during WWII (seriously, I’m starting to think the first book you read for the year dictates the kind of books you read all year–sort of like whatever you’re doing on NYE predicates your activities for the year), the conflict is well-established, especially with orphaned Liesel and her foster family.

So, it has all of that, and it still left me cold.  I struggled to finish it, and I kept waiting to, you know, care.  I think I have to just accept that Zusak’s work is not for me because I had the same response to I Am the Messenger.  I could tell the book was well-written, but I kept waiting for something to happen to fully engage me with the story.

My favorite part of the book was the short, illustrated story about friendship within the text.  I would’ve really enjoyed that as a standalone picture book.

YA Challenge:  12/75

Book Review: Embroideries

To speak behind others’ backs is the ventilator of the heart.

I was in a graphic novel kind of mood, and I enjoyed Persepolis, so I picked up Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi.  It’s a brief glimpse into afternoon samovar between the women in Marjane’s life.  (Previews of the book are available on the linked page.)

To be honest, there’s not a whole lot to say about this book.  It’s extremely short, which I found disappointing because I felt that to truly understand the women, the book should have spanned a couple of afternoons instead of just one.  That said, candid conversations between women = win.  I just really wish it had been longer and delved deeper.  Especially because Satrapi briefly touches on the attitudes of younger women towards sex in Persepolis, I thought it would’ve been nice to see some of the less sexually liberal young women confront the more cynical–and in some ways less sexually conservative–older women and their views on sex.  This was great as a slice of life, not so much as any kind of deeper or more challenging conversation.  I don’t know how else to describe it.

Best thing about the book?  Return of Marjane’s grandmother.  LOVE.  HER.  (She is also the source of the breakout quote.)

Women Unbound: 5/8; POC Challenge: 9/15

Book Review: The Bum Magnet

You know “the one,” right?  The one who cheated.  The one who lied.  The one who broke my damn heart.  The one who kept calling my house begging me to take his conniving ass back.  That “one.”

I won The Bum Magnet by K. L. Brady from Color Online, and, in an effort to actually read the books that I own versus the ones that I checked out from my library (plus I promised to review it), I brought it with me on vacation this weekend and finally read it.  It’s the story of Charisse, a successful realtor, and her quest to understand why she keeps attracting deadbeats.

What I Liked

– The best things about this book are hands down the voice and the humor.  Reading the book is like sitting down to talk with a friend, and Charisse keeps it very real.  I couldn’t help but think of at least two of my friends who would enjoy it based on the narration alone.  The humor never feels forced; it’s very authentic.  She talks the way lots of women I know talk, and I really appreciated that.  It’s dirty, but not raunchy–if that makes sense–which I appreciated because I can be kind of a prude sometimes.

– I loved the relationship between Charisse and Nisey.  It’s definitely a “true friend helps you bury the body” kind of relationship.  They are true blue friends who say what’s necessary, not what the other wants to hear.  At the same time, their relationship has that realistic frustration of not listening to each other’s advice when they’re venting.  You know, they speak truth to each other, but then do what they want/feel anyway EVEN WHEN IT’S WRONG.

– I saw so many women I know in Charisse.  Sooooo many.  At times it was almost painful to read (except it was so funny) because it was just like, “NOOOOOO, CHARISSE.  DON’T DO IT.  HE’S PLAYING YOU.  WHY CAN’T YOU SEEEEEEEE?”  That said, it was also totally believable that she would fall for these men and their stories.  The characterization was on point.  The spying, the mistrust, the desperation and incompleteness?  Wow, just so something I have seen so many times.

– Did I mention that the characters are awesome?  They’re awesome.  Really well drawn, all with their own distinctive voices.  The guys and their issues are fantastic, and, wow, do I know some of those guys as well.  Having a favorite (who isn’t the good guy) doesn’t feel right, but I kind of loved Lamar the most.  Not that I would ever want to date him or anything–just that he’s a great character.

What I Didn’t Like

– There are some plotting and pacing issues.  Some of the resolutions feel rushed or incomplete, and I wish Brady had slowed down a bit and spent more time on them.  For example, one of the biggest threads is Charisse’s relationship with her cousin Lee, and it’s pretty much done in a chapter or two, and since there’s so much build up for the resolution, I felt really cheated.  Also, there’s a LOT going on, and I felt the subplots could’ve been simplified a bit so I could grasp on to the three most important ones, but they kind of felt all over the place.

The form of the novel is that Charisse reads her old journals of her failed relationships, so there are flashbacks as well as real time narrations, but it was hard for me to ground myself in the narrative because I was never sure where in time I was.  I mean, it was clear when it was a flashback, but I was kind of surprised to find out that the novel spans a year when I got to the end.

– The book could’ve benefited from some editing, especially in terms of the dialogue.  There were just moments where it was stilted.  I mean, yes, that’s how people talk in real life, but some of it could’ve been cut down to get to what was important.  You know, the “nice to meet you”s and the “Oh, that’s interesting. What do you do?”s banality.  There were also some grammatical errors that I noticed, such as the misspelling of tête-à-tête.

I doubt my friends that I would recommend the book to would notice or care about those things, but that’s why I’m an Englishist and they’re not.

– The ending was really kind of pat.

– Oh, and it gets REALLY preachy at the end.

Women Unbound?

As Charisse tries to understand her past relationships, she’s really searching to free herself from past hurts.

In conclusion:  All of that said, this is a really fun read and an EXCELLENT beach/pool read, which I know, because I read it poolside over the weekend.  The voice is distinctive, the characters are great, and, honestly, the fun of it outweighs the flaws.

Also check out Get Off the Short Bus, Charisse and Nisey’s relationship advice blog.  Contains spoilers for the book, so wait until you read that to read the blog.

POC Challenge:  8/15