A young African-American boy learns to be tough and ruthless to survive the entrapments of urban poverty in Curry’s debut novel.
Frank “Franky B” Smith is born in Chicago to a 16-year-old mother, who was the daughter of a teenager herself. His mom—whose name, Hope, vibrates with poignant irony—does her best to care for her son, but she succumbs to an addiction to drugs. Her downward spiral leads to a long string of short-term “stepdaddies” who abuse Franky. Eventually, the state authorities step in and, by the age of 7, Franky is in the foster system. Driven by a desire to get back home to his mother, he does his best to sabotage each foster situation. But every attempt only takes him deeper into the system, until he finally winds up at the Thomas Jefferson Group Home for Boys, where many employees are, in Franky’s words, “racist…burnt-out…abusive…sexual predators.” Facing violence from other young residents and from those in authority, Franky learns to respond with merciless brutality, which sets him on a very dangerous path. Along the way, however, his meaningful bonds with friends and family offer hope. Curry’s taut and insightful narrative skillfully evokes the development of a frightened child into an angry teenager and a criminal young man. The author’s depiction of the role of gangs as substitute families, and of the tangled alliances between gangs and their various chapters, is astute, and he renders the language patterns of working-class urban black people convincingly. Moments of homophobia among the characters unfortunately go unchallenged in the text, as when Franky’s friend and mentor tells him, “You didn’t hit like no fag, so I didn’t want to see you become one.” Readers may also wish that Franky’s redemption was more fully developed, but overall, it’s a satisfying portrait of a life reclaimed.
An intense and often moving tale of a gang member’s life.