Minus the hip-hop window-dressing and sprinklings of rap names, Jasper’s debut is only a desultory rendering of a young man’s journey to maturity.
Nineteen-year-old Thai Williams—the brightest among his friends—passes his days in school, on his job, and hanging with his friends in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Then one day he walks in on his girlfriend grinding it out with a stranger named Nick, whom he later catches up with at a party. While he’s chasing Nick, a gun ends up in Thai’s hands, goes off, and a bullet lodges in Nick’s skull. Believing himself a felon on the run, Thai lights out for Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lays low with Enrique (“E”). From the old neighborhood, E has made an enviable new start: he has a job with his mother in real estate, a sweet periwinkle Jeep, and a “rich girl” who respects herself. After some time with E, Thai ends up partying with white people—they’re unexpectedly friendly—befriending a troubled girl named Alicia, and making occasional love with neighboring flight attendant Robin. Alicia, recently through an abortion, is still tangled up with a mean boyfriend who unsurprisingly clobbers Thai a couple of times in warning. Robin, meanwhile, encourages Thai to be his own man. E’s mother, whose business is thriving, even offers him a job and the chance to enter college. What’s not to like? Yet Thai comes to understand that in his previous environment, his irresponsible friends in effect conditioned him to murder Nick. So he goes to church, gets right with God and his father, learns some truths about his past, and heads back home to clean things up in D.C. before going on to whatever next stage in his life may follow.
Thai’s voice establishes all the depth of character there is here, the supporting cast existing mainly to prompt him toward his next insight. Still, this 25-year-old author shows a talent that could blossom in another, more challenging, book.