WHEN WE WAS FIERCE by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Kirkus Star


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Inner-city gang violence ravages a neighborhood.

When a gang pummels disabled teen Ricky-Ricky, 15-year-old T takes the brave, foolhardy step of crossing a street to see whether Ricky-Ricky’s OK. For T’s boldness, gang leader Money Mike beats T so badly that he lands in the hospital. Ricky-Ricky’s not OK, though; he’s “flat-fixed,” and Money Mike—T’s own brother—is the one who killed him. Now T and his three best friends may be “marked.” “I ain’t no soldier. / I ain’t enlisted,” says T, but this unnamed city’s war of gangs and guns doesn’t care: a storm of “bullets like raindrops” is something that “just happens.” Cops are both useless and dangerous, and there’s reference to their real-world victims (Michael Brown; Freddie Gray); however, the killings here—including T’s father two years ago—are all committed by gangs. This poor, black community wields distinct, poetic, almost Shakespearean word usage: “He wanna have speak”; “We all held our wait.” Barely noticeable toggling between past- and present-tense narration powerfully creates tension and unease. Only the free verse’s frequent apostrophes connoting a dropped letter are stereotypical and distancing. This is a compassionate, forceful look at the heartbreak and choices these black boys and men face at the lethal intersection of poverty and gang culture. Perhaps reflecting T's adolescent solipsism, black girls and women are less well-rounded and seem in no danger of violence themselves (even in reference to real-world police murders, no black women are named).

Direct and raw. (Verse fiction. 14 & up)

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7937-8
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Candlewick
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2016


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