Imagine being fifteen years old when your father goes to jail for the third time, leaving you with a mother who thinks the world owes her a living and a seven year old brother who is only in special education classes at school so your mom can continue to receive the SSI checks. You have no money, no food, and no home. Welcome to the world of Tyrell.
“You don’t hardly get to have no kinda childhood in the hood.”
Coe Booth’s young adult novel Tyrell describes a few action packed weeks in the life of a young boy who is trying to keep his little brother in school and safe from harm in their roach infested hotel in the Bronx. A high school dropout, his mom expects him to step into his father’s role and support the family, even if it means selling drugs and risking going to prison. In addition to trying to figure out how to make money to survive, Tyrell faces conflicting feelings between staying loyal to his girlfriend and getting close to Jasmine, a fellow hotel-guest. Told in first person narrative, the story is fast, funny, and filled with emotion. From page one, you won’t want to put the book down until you finish.
Tyrell is a moderately placed within the spectrum of street fiction. Its tasteful approach to the unpleasant realities of street life in urban America (i.e.: sex, drugs, violence) allow the book to be honest and raw without being overly explicit. Although I personally wouldn’t consider this to be necessarily an “alternative text,” but rather simply in a unique genre, I can understand why many educators would shy away from text with such objectionable content. If you look beyond superficial reviews, however, the true value street fiction can hold for student is immense. The storyline itself is often circular, so from page one, all information is pertinent and comes into play during the story’s climax, which generally portrays the harsh lessons learned in the ghetto. Most importantly, the characters undergo experiences that culturally and/or geographically universal, allowing students to easily relate to the characters. Being familiar with characters allows students to analyze character motives, personality, and perception.
For reluctant readers, reading in a text written with the same syntax and lexicon used in their everyday lives provides them the opportunity to work on the fluency of their reading without having to stop every couple lines to decipher what they just read.
**Booth, Coe. Tyrell. New York: Push, 2006.