"Upstate" by Kalisha Buckhanon
AUTHOR: Kalisha Buckhanon
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's Griffin
PUBLISHED DATE: January 10, 2006
I don't even know where to begin.
My emotions, my chest...I can't.
After reading Conception, I became obsessed with Buckhanon and her work, and wanted to gorge on all of her novels. I'm still unable to figure out how after a lifetime of loving and reading books - particularly those that speak to the black woman narrative, how this author escaped my radar. So I leapt into some of her other writings. Which has brought me to Upstate. The beginning finds two kids in love corresponding through letters. This heartbreaking love story unfolds as a testimony to the power of friendship and exposes the ugly truths and injustices of the world. This book is a literary triumph and a feast for the ratchet intellectual, the romantic, the street philosopher, and the streets at large. There's so much to unpack in this book, honestly - I still don't know where to begin, and I don't even feel that what I've just wrote has done the book justice.
Natasha and Antonio are two Harlem teens arriving at a fork in the road. Antonio is to stand trial for the murder of his father and Natasha is his devoted girlfriend, promising to stand the test of time and be there for her man. The trial reveals that Antonio and his family withstood significant abuse at the hands of his father. This is not enough to garner sympathy for the youth, and he is tried as an adult and sentenced to 10 years "Upstate" in prison. Natasha regularly visits and writes Antonio, and though her troubles pale in comparison to Antonio, she still struggles with the realities of a no-good stepfather, the crime filled streets, and flashbacks of living in a shelter. Natasha's drive to make it out of the ghetto is ultimately rewarded when she gets an opportunity to travel to Paris. She starts making more positive friends, and as she's able to see more of the world, she wants more, and works harder to get out and make something of herself. This triggers everyone around her to also try hard. Antonio is haunted by the events that led to his incarceration, and feels helpless as his family unravels. He still tries to further his education and work on becoming a better person. Through it all, they remain in touch. The story takes them into adulthood, and you really need to read this book to find out how it all ends up. This is really a beautiful story that had me up all night, and part of this morning, in tears.
Recommendation: Required reading. Don't even talk to me if you haven't read this book.
Audience: Young Adults and up
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