WAY PAST COOL by Jess Mowry


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 Black teen gangs in West Oakland are the subject of Mowry's first novel--a long cry of pain and rage over conditions in the ghetto. A fast-moving start (a bunch of kids on their way to school are sprayed with bullets from a passing van) is followed by a very slow-moving story about two early-teen gangs; 16-year-old drug- dealer Deek and his bodyguard Ty; and a teen mother, Markita, working at Burger King to support herself and her baby. Deek, who is evil incarnate, has hired the Big Boys in the van to give both gangs a good scare; the gangs, observing their ``rules,'' have a meet and decide that Deek must be killed. This duly happens, in a climactic firefight that lasts forever. A parallel storyline centers on Ty, a lost soul who regains his humanity when he stops his kid brother Danny from becoming another street-corner dealer and tries to stop Deek from murdering the Big Boys (``they knew too much''). Markita finds him sobbing in an alley and takes him home; they make love, and a schmaltzy ending suggests that they have a future together. Mowry uses this lumbering vehicle to make some familiar points: that his feral, gun-toting homeboys are still kids who do their homework and ache for love; that ghetto life is ``a long line of cages''; that ``black death means nothing to nobody''; and that the drug culture has devastated black pride and solidarity. Mowry (the story collection Rats in the Trees, 1990) does know the territory, but, given his overheated prose, his cry from the heart too often sounds like an out-of-control scream; for a restrained treatment of this material, there's always Boyz 'n the Hood (John Singleton's impressive 1991 movie debut).

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-374-28669-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1992


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