Woodson, J. (2008). After Tupac & D Foster. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Woodson uses beautiful prose to share the experiences of the narrator, Neeka and their new friend D, who is in foster care. They maintain their friendships as they experience life in their neighborhood and have discussions about friends and family. The three girls feel a special connection to the famous rapper Tupac Shakur as they grow to become teenagers. Time flows as a backdrop and the various experiences of Tupac being shot, imprisoned and reemerging serve as some of the strongest markers of time.
The tensions of After Tupac & D Foster are subtle. Most of them are shared through conversations on the girls’ front stoops in Queens as they consider discrimination, boys, the justice system, their families, Neeka’s homosexual brother and their own futures.
The character voices are strong and thought provoking. Woodson manages to touch on a bit of the academic theory of Deconstruction (my fave!), with understandable descriptions. But I did feel that the characters’ search for their Big Purpose was lost throughout most of the story.
Activities to do with the book:
A teacher could take this book in several different directions. If a teacher were using this book with younger middle grade students, he or she could emphasize the girls’ search for their Big Purpose and connect it to other stories, like The Higher Power of Lucky, while still having discussions about race, gender, family and education. This would be a good book to show how a writer can say a lot with a few seemingly simple descriptions.
On the other hand, although the protagonists are only 13 at the end of the text, it deals with issues that are relevant to teens. If a teacher wanted to emphasize the treatment of African Americans by the justice system, the book could be paired with Myers’s Monster.
Other more general options include exploring Tupac’s life and poetry or the treatment of homosexuality, gender, deconstruction, having a friend leave, and family in the 1990s.
“D Foster showed up a few months before Tupac got shot that first time and left us the summer before he died. By the time her mama came and got her and she took one last walk on out of our lives, I felt like we’d grown up and grown old and lived a hundred lives in those few years that we knew her. But we hadn’t really. We’d just gone from being eleven to being thirteen. Three girls. Three the Hard Way. In the end, it was just me and Neeka again” (p. 2).
“Maybe, while he was in jail, Tupac started thinking about his Big Purpose. That’s what D called it—our Big Purpose. She said everybody’s got one and it’s just that we gotta figure out what it is and the go have it” (p. 7).
“Me and Neeka had bought matching jean jackets with white stitching on the pockets for when school started and we’d worn them that day with these brown velvet pants we had. We’d walk up and down the block thinking we were bad, but we were just hot in our fall gear” (p. 23).
“I watched her for a minute to see if she understood about gray areas. I’d just learned it myself and was trying it out” (p. 26).