Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson. Putnam Young Adult 2008.

A nameless narrator and her two young friends deal with racism, becoming a young adult, discovering their identities, hope and loss during a two-year span in the mid-1990s.

There is a lot to like in this novel, which I expected from Woodson. The first aspect that will strike many readers is her use of dialect. I felt it was respectful to African American Vernacular English while also using "standard" English during portions that were only narration and not dialogue. Woodson has an excellent grasp on the voice of urban youth, not portraying them as ignorant but as quite knowledgeable in the ways of the world and American culture.

Woodson's deft incorporation of popular culture impressed me. She seems to have a genuine understanding of the effect that music and the people who make it have on teenagers. This is often taken for granted in young adult literature. She doesn't try to portray Tupac as perfect, but represents the affection that his fans felt (and still feel) for him. She does an excellent job of explaining the reasons behind the depth of this affection, even almost 15 years after his untimely death. She uses the girls' connection to Tupac to show how his marginalization in the courts and in the press parallels the marginalization of many young African Americans in the United States.

This book is certainly not perfect. It does draw on some stereotypes, such as the black boy ball player who gets a scholarship to college, without going beyond those stereotypes to create new characters. There are however, some very unique characters, such as the gay "Queen" who isn't afraid to be himself and has the support and love of his family.

Woodson incorporates several themes into the novel. The idea of hope and loss is particularly well-developed. She juxtaposes happy, hopefuly events (such as Tash's release from jail and JayJones's scholarship) with great loss (such as Tupac's death and D's farewell). She uses this juxtaposition to show how hope and loss coexist, and how we have to choose to be hopeful if we want to survive.

Classroom Applications

This is a quick read that is sure to be appreciated by students, especially fans of 2Pac's music. Although my students (7th graders) aren't old enough to remember Tupac, his music and its importance to American culture continues to influence them. As far as reading level and content, I think this novel could be applied to both middle and high school classrooms-- most appropriate for grades 6-9.

Literary devices/terms to teach: non sequential plot, allusion, dialect

Extension Questions
1) In what ways are D's interests and personality similar to Neeka's and the narrator's? How is she different?
2) What do you think happened to D after the events of the story ended? Explain.
3) Why did Woodson choose Tupac as the girls' favorite rapper and not another artist? They are certainly other artists that people feel a connection with. Explain your answer.
4) In ways do the girls connect to Tupac as a person, not just as a musician?
5) Compare and contrast JayJones and Tash. How are their personalities similar? Do you think JayJones will learn from Tash's experiences? Why?
6) What stereotypes, if any, do you see represented in this novel? How does the novel go against stereotypes?
7) Why are the girls shocked to find out the D's mother is white? What was your reaction? Explain.

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