Thursday, February 12, 2009


Coe Booth
copyright 2006
number of pages: 310

When I don’t like the protagonist, the supporting characters, the basic premise or how the plot resolved itself but think it’s a great book anyway, that says something is wonderful about the writing.

Tyrell is the story of an intercity Black teen, living in a shelter, and trying to take care of his brother and make some money without resorting to dealing drugs as his father has done. The subplot deals with will-he-or-won’t-he? with his Catholic schoolgirl, underage girlfriend. (Well, he will, just not “for real,” since as everyone knows oral sex doesn’t count.)

The first few chapters had me impatient, since the impoverished characters all have cell phones and eat at McDonald’s. Good grief, I could feed my family for a week on the cost of one fast-food meal. Could, heck, I often do. But as I kept reading, I realized through the story what no amount of lecturing or explaining could have taught me: it not only takes money to make money, it takes money to save money. I can feed my family for a long time for pennies because I have a fully equipped kitchen, a chest freezer, a crock pot, dozens of cookbooks, and years of cooking experience behind me. These are people who not only don’t have those resources, they wouldn’t know what to do with them if they had them. And such people are real, even if this story is not.

I’m sorry but I don’t like Tyrell. He is a nasty, self-important, myopic jerk. But he’s a well-drawn, nasty, self-important, myopic jerk. I’ve never seen such vivid writing. I’ve never marveled more at a written interpretation of a dialect. And Ms. Booth, unlike Mark Twain (also known for dialects) is a social worker in the group she’s describing. She has empathy, she has understanding, she can bring the group alive for people who will always be far away from the inner city experience.

Review submitted by Freida Toth


Doret said...

I loved Tyrell the novel and the character. I liked how he cared for his younger brother. Wrong or right he always thought out his actions. I placed myself in Tyrell's reality so the cell phones and McDonalds diet was his truth, and I had no problem with that.
And Booth's writing was excellent.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely; the cell phones and McDonald's was his truth. That's one of the reasons I thought it was a great book. It made me think in ways I haven't ever been able to. Booth's writing is wonderful, so vivid. I will definitely look forward to anything else she writes.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, sorry, I typed too soon. I didn't mean to be anonymous. I'm Frieda and I meant to thank Doret for your comment, but didn't yet have a google account.

Sorry if I confused things.