Right before winter break, I had a class come into the library to check out books for a free-choice reading unit they were going to start right after the holidays. One 10th grader who comes into the library almost every day to use the computers ended up checking out Coe Booth’s Tyrell.
The first day back from break, he was back in the library. But when I reached to get him a laptop, he told me that he didn’t want a computer–he wanted another book like Tyrell. I gave him her newest title, Bronxwood, but he was back again two days later to return that one, too, because he was already finished. He told me that he hadn’t read a book for “fun” since middle school.
Coe Booth’s books provide the perfect, gritty balance between hard and soft for a tough, but secretly sensitive, guy. There’s a backdrop of urban conflict: Tyrell’s father is in jail and his mother has a drug problem, leaving his family homeless and him to take care of his younger brother; he’s missed more school than he’s attended; his girlfriend doesn’t understand him. But ultimately it’s a story about a teenage boy falling for a girl and finding the courage to try to follow his own dreams–with some healthy contemplation of race issues.
The books below all follow this model. They’re about tough guys who can’t seem to stay out of trouble and have incredibly messed up home lives, but who find a certain amount of salvation in themselves (and from girls who are perhaps out of their league). If you have other ideas for what a Coe Booth reader might like, share them in the comments!
Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la PeÃ±a: Sticky has spent his life moving between foster homes and dealing with the collateral damage from his mother’s unstable life, but his one constant has always been basketball. As Sticky works toward trying to land a basketball scholarship, he deals with confronting his past, building a relationship with his girlfriend, and questions about race. This book is also currently being made into a movie with Ludacris as a supporting actor.
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson: Tyler starts his senior year with newfound attention after getting caught tagging the school the year before and then being sentenced to a summer of physical labor (with the muscles to prove it). Tyler is finally able to attract his crush, popular girl Bethany, who also happens to be the daughter of his father’s boss. But the new world he’s a part of at school, and his father’s constant anger at home, only create more conflict and complication.
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson: Bobby’s world changes forever when he becomes the father of a beautiful baby girl. His parents are supportive, but expect him to care for her, and Bobby struggles how to deal on his own with the responsibilities of parenthood, school, and friends who don’t understand what he’s going through.
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles: Alternating narratives follow gang member Alex Fuentes and cheerleader Brittany Ellis as each deal with their personal struggles at home and with friends. When they become lab partners, Alex’s friends bet him that he can’t nail her, but things get complicated as he gets to know her and a real relationship unexpectedly blossoms.
The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees: The only thing on Frankie’s mind is trying to get a date with his long-time crush Rebecca Sanchez. But things get complicated when Frankie finds himself in the middle of a war between his older brother Steve (a soccer star who has started hanging out with a local gang) and rich, white soccer-player John Dalton.
Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper: Sharon Draper’s first novel still packs a punch. It uses letters, journals, newspaper articles, and other writings to tell the story of how high school basketball player Andy Jackson’s life comes apart, pushing him to commit suicide after being the drunk driver in an accident that kills his friends. The book deals with his personal struggle as much as the community’s reaction and racism.
— Annie Schutte, currently reading Bad Island by Doug TenNapel