MY EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER started college this fall. She's working, attending classes full-time, and living at home. She's growing up, more adult than child, and the tidal patterns of our relationship seem to fluctuate between two states: shallow and surge. We're always close, always connected, but the emotional and financial tethers of dependency loosen more each day.
Our togetherness is changing; still she and I have only to wade through our collection of shared books to revisit the yesterdays of her childhood. Some days, I stand before our bookcases in the living room and think how it feels a lot like standing at the ocean, each book we've read together a seashell, a sand dollar, a starfish, a treasure from our history.
How often have I stood on the shore of motherhood for these eighteen years uttering one of two kinds of prayer: thank you or oh shit? How often has just the right book washed ashore in response? Just Us Women by Jeannette Caines became our road-trip-home-to-Mississippi book when Judith was three. When she was eight, Because of Winn Dixie served as a post-divorce reminder that we were an animal-loving family in need of a dog. Even now, books help us find our way through things.
Last week, my daughter and I read Tyrell and Bronxwood by Coe Booth back to back. She hadn't yet finished Bronxwood when, unable to stand waiting any longer, I poked my head in her room and asked, "Do you love Tyrell?"
"I love him soooo much," she said. "But I can't talk about it right now; I need to finish. Tomorrow."
Booth writes Tyrell and Bronxwood in first person present. The urgent, immediate, realistic voice of Tyrell reeled us completely into his life and his community. In Tyrell, the family is living in a homeless shelter, having lost their apartment shortly after Tyrell's father entered prison. In the midst of this housing crisis, Tyrell tries to keep up with his friends, stay tight with his girlfriend, who still lives in Bronxwood, and figure out school. The city jerks his family around, and Moms (Tyrell's mother) soon spirals from a state of almost functioning into a full-blown case of I-need-a-man paralysis. Tyrell takes charge, determined to earn enough to care for his brother and Moms without breaking the law.
In Bronxwood, Tyrell's father is just released from prison and shows no respect or gratitude toward Tyrell for all that his teenage son has done to keep the family together. In fact, Pops seems set on breaking Tyrell's spirit. Are you a man or a boy? Pops repeatedly demands. While Tyrell struggles to answer that question for himself, throughout Tyrell and Bronxwood, we learn exactly who Tyrell is.
We see a young man who craves the love and acceptance of his family and friends, a guy who does right by his people even if doing right means sometimes doing wrong, and a boyfriend who likes to reassure his lady, "I don't know if you know this, but I'm one of them sensitive brothas." Tyrell possesses an incisive self-awareness, a gentle heart and a badass ability to take care of business. Here's a teenage boy who cuddles a crying infant to give his best friend a moment's respite from the insane juggling act of being a teenage dad and a drug dealer. When Cal stresses over his baby boy's colicky fussing, Tyrell intervenes. "Give me him," Tyrell says and raps a babified version o...read more