Saturday, October 22, 2011


Saying the YA novel, Bronxwood,  by Coe Booth, and just released this September, is fast moving is like saying a meteor accelerating towards the Earth's crust is "fast moving." It's an understatement. Bronxwood is a great read with a fascinating setting and well drawn characters.

The setting, an inner city project in New York City, behaves like a character, applying pressure on protagonist 16 year-old Tyrell and everyone who lives there, reminiscent of the setting, perhaps, in West Side Story, but more so.  Tyrell has little room to breathe in this pressure cooker. As I read, I was reminded of some of the basic laws . . . of  physics.

The conflicts between Tyrell, and members of his family, his roommates, friends and girlfriends, confined as they are in Bronxwood, are like molecules of oxygen or nitrogen, or even fireflies in a jar, constantly colliding each other and the wall of the jar. Too many molecules crammed into the jar causes constant collision and pressure, too much tension,  running high throughout the story.

Tyrell can't leave his apartment building, for instance, without colliding with one of the girls he likes, all interesting and complicated. At home, at least one of his two drug dealing roommates are usually there too, and in some sort of trouble. His father, violent, controlling and just released from prison, calls and wants to see him. Tyrell's encounters with his little brother in foster care are endlessly sad and he discovers his mother is having a dangerous affair with her husband's friend.

I wanted Tyrell's life to just slow down, but that's impossible in Bronxwood.  I turned the pages faster and faster.

Which brings me to what seemed to be a Bronxwood time warp.

In respect to time, the inhabitants seem to be in an alternate universe.  Old age, for instance, is around forty. Working as a DJ, Tyrell says, "I got everybody out there dancing, young people and even them forty-year-olds like my pops. He out there looking like a old fool, dancing with two young girls."  Tyrell knows people age fast, you're young today, old tomorrow, alive today and dead or severely injured tomorrow (Tyrell's roommate is brutally beaten dealing drugs).

What control Tyrell has over his life is over the present only, especially with the girls who drive him crazy and with whom he's passionate. About his ex, Novisha, he says, "I couldn't get her out of my mind. I ain't had no place for nobody else." But later, it's Jasmine he loves, and who has a body that's "slamming . . . It ain't no joke."

But what teen doesn't think parents are old? And what sixteen year old boys are not obsessed with sex? It is just that in the high pressure setting of  Bronxwood it's all accelerated,  rushed, as if the human lifespan is about to shorten to the point of total collapse. The world view of Adonna, one of the girls in Tyrell's world, illustrates how time works in Bronxwood.  She expects young men to take her on dates, woo and win her. This sharply contrasts with the rushed sense of time in this setting.

On the other hand, time crawls when Tyrell needs something from a parent or other adult, a safe place to live.  For anything close to happiness, peace and security there is endless and impossible waiting.

Eventually, events threaten to destroy both Tyrell and Jasmine, who he loves in the end and who has her own reasons to get out of Bronxwood fast.  Can they escape? At age 16, can they make it on the outside? Can life ever slow down? That, I hope, will be revealed in Coe Booth's next book.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Janice! I loved this analogy: "Too many molecules crammed into the jar causes constant collision and pressure, too much tension, running high throughout the story." Looking forward to reading Coe Booth's BRONXWOOD.