aftertupacI’m a big fan of Jacqueline Woodson’s work, and After Tupac and D Foster is a powerful addition to her list of works. The 11-year-old narrator tells us about her best friend Neeka and their Queens, NY neighborhood in the 1990s. Tupac is still alive, and another young girl named D Foster (is that her real name?) steps off a bus one day and into the girls’ lives. D is mysterious and secretive, but the girls love her like a sister. They don’t know where she lives or all that much about her other than her name and the fact that she is in foster care.

All three girls share a love for Tupac, who touches D the deepest. She struggles with her mother and her place in the world, just like her hero. And through talks about his music, our narrator and Neeka get brief glimpses into D’s past and her thoughts. One day D’s real mother returns for her, and she walks out of the lives of the two girls. Not long after, Tupac is killed.

Ms. Woodson weaves together something a little magical and very quiet here. Not much happens in Queens in the lives of these girls. Neeka has a huge family, including a gay older brother who’s in jail for a hate crime he didn’t commit. Another brother is trying to get into college on a basketball scholarship. Over the 2 years of friendship covered in the book, the girls develop and start to get the attention of boys. They sit on the steps outside their building with a Walkman, listening to Pac’s lyrics. They jump rope, talk about getting off their block (which neither Neeka or our narrator are aloud to leave alone), and watch all the neighbors they’ve known all their lives. D tells them she came to their neighborhood looking for piece and a place to fit in, and that’s what she gets. The girls are loved and surrounded by family and friends; they’ve never really had to think about life without those things.

I think the dialogue speaks to kids. They’ll understand the language, they’ll understand the emotions and the heart. How a moment when you’re 12 can feel like the entire world happening right then and there. That wish to be older, and free. It’s a great book, and one of the 2008 Printz honor books.

**This was a Newbery honor book, not the Printz.