A lackluster debut by journalist Smith, a former Vibe and Time editor, about the difficult childhood and troubled youth of two sisters growing up in the Oakland ghettoes.
For the poor, the West Coast can be as bleak as anywhere in the Rust Belt. Directly across the bay from San Francisco, Oakland was once a prosperous railway and waterfront town that lost many of its jobs in the postwar years and went into a long decline, becoming home to many of the blacks who could no longer afford to live in San Francisco. Two of these are our heroines, Pinch and Paige, who grew up in Oakland in the 1970s. The two never knew their father, but they were looked after in a highly matriarchal household by their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Unfortunately for the girls, however, the male sex was represented by their mother’s worthless boyfriend Seth—an abusive drunkard who preyed on Pinch and Paige when no one else was around. Although Paige was the older, she was a hopeless dreamer and needed to be looked after by the more practical Pinch. Despite their hard beginnings, the two grew up happy and confident, eager to move into the larger world. By the 1980s, though, much of Oakland has been taken over by the drug trade, and Paige and Pinch have fallen in with a group of friends—Donnell, Oscar, May, and Cedric—who are dealers. The money is good, but there’s hell to pay, as always. Is there a way out? Optimism and high hopes can take you only so far. Maybe tenacity and common sense can have longer legs—and carry you, maybe, all the way out of Oakland.
What could have been an intriguing glimpse of a harsh and exotic world is disappointingly flat and lifeless. Mired in sentimentality early on, it goes nowhere in the end.