A debut novel about a boy coming of age in an inner-city New York neighborhood.
The book begins with narrator Abraham Singleton’s birth to a 13-year-old mother on the bathroom floor of her grandmother’s apartment, a circumstance not conducive to future success. We then follow the next 18 years of Abraham’s life, meeting his neighbors and relatives along the way. The most important people in Abraham’s life include his mother Jelly, not much more than a child herself; his uncle Roosevelt (aka Nice), nine years Abraham’s senior; and especially his cousin Donnel, four years older than Abraham but increasingly like a brother. Then, predictably, things fall apart: Jelly becomes a crack addict and piteously cajoles her son for the dollar he has for lunch money; Nice is imprisoned but years later emerges with quiet dignity after having converted to Islam; and Donnel’s vision of breaking free is shattered by his imprisonment for a variety of offenses including assault, battery, criminal anarchy and resisting arrest, all these charges stemming from an overly intense game of street basketball. Throughout the chaos of his childhood and adolescence, Abraham tries to keep his eyes on the prize, aided in part by his girlfriend Kaya, a no-nonsense keeper of the academic flame, convinced that education is the way out for both of them. Just at the point when his experiences begin to harden him, Abraham gets an offer from the Brandeis basketball coach to consider attending college, so he sweats through his application and SATs, with salutary results.
A hard-edged novel with a sweet but unsentimental interior.