Friday, October 14, 2011

Bronxwood by Coe Booth

" He get a little smile on his face, like he laughing at me or something. 'I'm saying, if you don't like it at Cal place no more, you got a room right here. It's all set up for you.  You could be laying in that bed tonight.  But you ain't moving back in here 'less you ask me if you could.  That way, both of us is gonna know the reason you back living with me is 'cause you wasn't man enough to make it on your own.'
I don't get this guy.  He losing it for real.
'There's only gonna be one man in this house, Ty.  And that man ain't you.'"
Boy, would I ever hate to be Tyrell.  Things were bad enough when his family was living in a shelter, his Dad was in jail and his immature, do-nothing Mom was pressuring him to be the "man" of the family (in other words, steal or sell drugs to support her and his younger brother Troy).  Talk about a role reversal--aren't mothers supposed to want to keep their kids out of trouble?   In Bronxwood, Coe Booth returns to the characters she brought to such vivid life in her debut novel, but adds a twist--Tyrell's brother is in foster care, Tyrell himself is sharing a small apartment with his friend Cal, and his father is being released from jail and is returning to take charge of his dislocated family.  The thing is, Tyrell has grown up a lot in the past year,  and his father doesn't want to know about it.  He wants things back to the way they were before, and Tyrell no longer fits into his family's life.

Coe Booth excels at so many things, but I think she conveys two things really well in this book.  One is the sense of pressure that Tyrell feels, the way everyone expects something of him that he's not sure he wants to give.  This is a kid without a lot of great options, and he knows it.  His friends are drug dealers, one girl he's eyeing wants him to spend money on her that he doesn't have, and the girl he cares about even more is being groomed by a sexual predator.  He's good at being a DJ but he can't afford his own equipment.  He loves his brother but the foster mother in charge doesn't want him visiting.  If Tyrell feels that no one has his back, it's probably because no one does.  How can he become the man he wants to be with so much working against him?

I've read lots of books which put young people into dilemmas like this, only to bring in a responsible adult at the end to save the day.  But not Booth.  She keeps it real.  No one's swooping in to help.

Coe Booth's second triumph here is in showing Tyrell finally facing his father as an adult.  I think the primary relationship in Bronxwood is between Tyrell and his father,  and their relationship is pretty complex.  Tyrell's Dad is very much a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy, and if he feels disrespected, he doesn't hesitate to get violent.  Tyrell wants to confront his father with the consequences of his jail time, and he's frustrated by how unrepentant his father is.   What Tyrell wants from his father, he's never going to get.  At least Tyrell has  reached the point where he can begin to separate himself from his father's bad choices.  Although Tyrell isn't out of the woods yet,  I think that's a sign of hope.

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