The Word on Street Lit: Old School Versus New Blood

That old saw tells what to give at a wedding. Let’s see…something old, something new‚Ķbooks are borrowed from the library, but the music in street lit is hip-hop rather than the blues. In this crop of titles, the fight is on between old school versus new blood. In Atria’s repackaging, Lisa Lennox’s street tales stand their ground against fresh, aggressive works that pull no punches. It would be hard for anyone to say which stories‚ old or new‚ are the cream of the crop, so let the debate begin.

Pick of the Month
starred review starLennox, Lisa. Crackhead: A Novel. 256p. ISBN 9781451661736.
Lennox, Lisa. Crackhead II: A Novel. 304p. ISBN 9781451661750.
ea. vol: Atria: S. & S. Mar. 2012. pap. $14. F
First published by Triple Crown in 2004 and 2008, respectively, these titles are well worth a second look. In the first volume, 17-year-old Julacia Laci Johnson grows up in a stable, middle-class home but is pulled over to the wild side by the South Bronx Bitches (SBB), a gang of girls who taunt anyone who doesn’t fit in. Soon enough, the SBB girls offer Laci a woo (marijuana laced with crack), and the bougie chick is instantly hooked. Her addiction leads her to the worst part of the city, where she’s willing to do any sexual favor for another hit. A side story about male drug dealers’ reasons for working the streets enhances Lennox’s novel as teenage assassin Smurf steals the spotlight. The second volume picks up with Laci, now a freshman at Boston University, trying to pull herself together. The pipe still has its pull, but her stronger motivation is to get revenge on the SBB members who ruined part of her life. Keep your eye on that dude Smurf; he’s dangerous.
Verdict Lennox is from the old school, and her work does not share the over-the-top drama of much of today’s street lit. Her plots twist and turn intriguingly, with secondary characters emerging as important players. If your library’s collection is like mine, original copies are long gone. Restock with multiples.

Boston George. Redrum. Urban Bks. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9781601624802. pap. $14.95. F
Weird happenings are afoot in this brutal street lit tale that brings to mind slice-and-dice slasher movies. Kendu is a drug player married to Diamond, but she’s fed up with his sleeping around and decides to get even by hitting a club owned by ultra-sexy Perry. Readers know Diamond is living dangerously because opening scenes reveal psycho killer Perry kidnapping and torturing a woman before cutting her throat. Kendu has his own problems. To pay off his debts to Dirty Black, he is forced to run with Amazon, a ruthless killer who is brutally enthusiastic about murdering his rivals. Kendu and Diamond may get back together…that is, if they can survive.
Verdict Shades of Freddy Krueger and The Silence of the Lambs‘ s Buffalo Bill give this multilevel tale a high cringe factor. There’s plenty of sex to go around, but the author (Knee Deep in the Game) pulls away from the street lit pack with the novel’s outrageous killings. There is an audience here, but they probably aren’t straight-laced folks.

Capri, Ne Ne. The Pussy Trap. Wahida Clark Presents. 2011. 266p. ISBN 9780982841488. pap. $15. F
The suggestive title means exactly what readers will think, and the trap arrives dressed in a pink lace bra. Hot and sexy Koko becomes wifey to Kayson, a major New York City drug mogul. If lovemaking were an Olympic event, this couple would win the gold for stamina as lengthy sex acts go on for pages. On the other hand, killing is nasty and grim. Kayson confronts a snitch:
Bitch, we at war and you know what you are?
What? she asked crying and shaking.
A casualty. Kayson spat then put one bullet in each one of her eyes. Next time see no evil, bitch.
Soon enough, Koko uses her sexuality to infiltrate the enemy, planning to avenge a murder. We hope the brassy hood chick succeeds.
Verdict This debut is pure street, loaded with sex and violence, but characters pop in without an introduction and many loose threads lead nowhere. In need of serious editing, this story is like one of those youth campfire songs that go on and on and on. The title rocks, but overall, this one is a marginal purchase.

Kowalski, William. Something Noble. Raven Bks: Orca. (Rapid Reads). Mar. 2012. 116p. ISBN 9781459800137. pap. $9.95. F
Linda Gonzalez is a desperate mother willing to do whatever it takes to save Dre, her 16-year-old son dying of kidney failure. Dre needs a donor with a matching blood type, necessitating an expensive search for a family one flat tire or speeding ticket away from bankruptcy. Kowalski’s (The Barrio Kings; The Way It Works) brief novel, designed for adults with literacy problems, reads like a short story, and Linda’s voice snags readers’ attention with the first sentence: I just want to tell you straight up that this story has no happy ending. True, but there are several nifty twists; Linda does discover a donor for Dre, but that’s only the launching point for the novel’s sparse but interesting plot.
Verdict Buy multiple copies, but don’t hide them with other paperbacks. Marked by an authentic plot and realistic characters, this slim volume delivers what it advertises and deserves a bright spotlight.

Yoshe. The Killer Poet. Urban Bks. Jan. 2012. 306p. ISBN 9781601624857. pap. $14.95. F
After 20 desperate years in New York City’s Brownsville neighborhood, Prince Poet Washington is at his breaking point. True enough, the young dude sells crack, but he wants a better world for his mother and little sisters. After witnessing a sexual assault, Poet hunts down the rapist and executes him in a stunning scene of street justice. Feeling powerful, Poet kills again and again, offing a drug dealer, an armed robber, a pedophile, and a female crackhead. Yoshe (Taboo; Taboo 2) offers plenty of intrigue, leaving readers to guess at who will betray this psychotic avenging angel. A side story in which Poet’s best friend is having a secret affair with Poet’s 16-year-old sister is a juicy bonus.
Verdict Yoshe’s plot is well constructed and will grab readers’ attention, but its flow is interrupted by wearisome descriptions of everyday tasks. The message-driven ending about redemption and hope is at odds with earlier scenes of rough executions and nasty sex. Still, this novel is a solid purchase for street lit collections.

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