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Hip Hop is Happening in YA Lit, a guest post by Lisa Krok

The Grammys have often failed to recognize hip-hop artists in the most notable award categories. Based upon the lack of representation of Black performers in the Motown tribute, the Grammys clearly still have work to do. However, the steps toward progress are in motion, with huge wins for Childish Gambino and Cardi B. Childish Gambino’s “This is America” won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Music Video. The Song of the Year honors writers of songs, while the Record of the Year honors the recording artist. “This is America” was the first rap song to win these two distinguished accolades. Additionally, Cardi B was the first female solo artist to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album for “Invasion of Privacy”, alongside several other award nominations. This year Childish Gambino and Cardi B made history, and Young Adult Lit is here for it!

Three strong and exceptionally talented Black YA authors have hit the trifecta with books that are new releases or coming soon and reflect hip-hop culture. As rapper and social theorist KRS-One stated, “Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live”.

hiphop1Many teens will already be familiar with author Angie Thomas from (NYT Bestseller for 100+ weeks) The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray, 2017) book and movie. The Hate U Give has received multiple awards and honors, including YALSA’s William C. Morris Award, a Coretta Scott King honor, a Printz honor, and the National Book Award long list, just to name a few. Thomas, a former teen rapper herself, recently released On the Come Up featuring Bri, a female teen rapper trying to make it big. Living up to a dead father who was a rap legend is tough. Combine that with racist actions from school security, a recovering addict mom desperately trying to make ends meet, and competition in the ring, finding your voice is difficult and is sometimes misconstrued by those who want to knock you down. Thomas passionately and realistically portrays the harsh realities of being Black and poor, while pushing forward and going for your dream. On the Come Up released February 5, 2019 from Balzer + Bray.

See Epic Reads track-by-track breakdown of Spotify’s On the Come Up playlist, along with a rap name generator. Playlist features tracks from Biggie, Common, Cardi B, Tupac, Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliott, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, and many more legends. Selections for the playlist were chosen by Angie Thomas.

https://www.epicreads.com/blog/on-the-come-up-playlist/

hiphop2Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, and was an Edgar award finalist  for both Fake ID (Harper Collins, 2014) and Endangered (Harper Collins, 2015). Additionally, Overturned (Scholastic, 2017) was a 2018 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. Giles also edited the WNDB anthology Fresh Ink (Random House, 2018) and contributed to anthologies Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America (Balzer + Bray, 2019) and Three Sides of a Heart (Harper Collins, 2017). He is best known for his crime fiction, and in his newest release, Spin (Scholastic Press, 2019), takes on a murder mystery involving DJ Paris Secord, aka DJParSec. This fast-paced mystery starts off with DJParSec’s two estranged friends, Kya and Fuse, under suspicion for her murder. When some of the ParSecNation fandom spins off into an ill-intended Dark Nation side, Fuse and Kya band together to uncover the true killer. Tough female protagonists + hip-hop + murder mystery = a winner for Lamar Giles. Spin was released January 29, 2019 from Scholastic Press. Giles also has a middle grade fantasy forthcoming, The Last Lastay-of-Summer from Versify/HMH on April 2, 2019.

Spin has a Spotify playlist, too!

Check out these tracks inspired by DJParSec, featuring Cardi B, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliott,

Lil’ Kim, Drake, J. Cole, Beyonce, Jay Z, and more.

https://t.co/Di5WOPGGv1

hiphop3Tiffany D. Jackson is a master of twist endings, as evidenced by the shocking revelations in Allegedly (Katherine Tegen Books, 2017) and Monday’s Not Coming (Katherine Tegen Books, 2018). Jackson’s awards and honors include 2018 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers for Allegedly, and most recently the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Monday’s Not Coming. Additionally, Monday’s Not Coming received a Walter Dean Myers honor and was named a SLJ Best Book of 2018. She adds her own contribution to this hip-hop book fest with Let Me Hear a Rhyme (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019). Jackson collaborated with Malik “Malik-16” Sharif, who provided the lyrics within the novel. Set in the 1990’s in Brooklyn, friends Steph, Quadir, and Jarrell are mourning the loss of Biggie Smalls, who they felt represented their neighborhood via his music. When Steph is shot and killed, his two friends conspire with his sister, Jasmine, to commemorate him. When they unearth shoeboxes full of recordings of Steph’s songs, they promote him as “The Architect”, while the producer has no idea that he is promoting a dead client. This amusing situation adds levity to the mystery, as the team of three begin to uncover what really happened to Steph. Let Me Hear a Rhyme is forthcoming from Katherine Tegen Books on May 21, 2019. 

“I think about the lyrics in so many hip-hop songs and understand why Steph made me listen to them. Life has never been easy for black folks, and survival means doing things you wouldn’t do normally. Can I really judge someone trying to live?”

 – Jasmine, Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Great songs tend to have a “hook”, and so do great books. The three aforementioned novels each have a KILLER first line:

  • “I might have to kill somebody tonight.” – On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
  • “I did not kill Paris Secord.” – Spin by Lamar Giles
  • “You’ve probably seen this scene before: Ladies in black church dresses, old men in gray suits, and hood kids in white tees with some blurry picture printed on the front and the spray-painted letters RIP.” – Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

The hot, striking covers, cool beats, and captivating hooks make all three of these selections great for many types of readers, including the most reluctant of readers. Books like these, and rap music itself, lend themselves to many creative opportunities for teens to break down lyrics and even write some of their own.

So, if rap = poetry + rhythm, then poetry as lyrics can work in many different ways.

“A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level.     – Jay Z

Teens may also be interested in trying their hand at Poetry Slams, a la The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Tips about poetry slams can be found here:

https://www.powerpoetry.org/actions/how-write-slam-poetry

Angie Thomas stated at an event in 2018 that hip-hop has given a voice to urban America. See Angie’s comments here:

Lastly, give the amazing Bahni Turpin’s audiobooks a listen. Turpin narrated Allegedly, The Hate U Give, On the Come Up, and DJParSec’s portion of Spin, among many others. Her voice is a perfect fit for the characters in these stories. Please see the links below for more information about Bahni Turpin, We Need Diverse Books, and these three fantastic authors.

https://www.audible.com/search?searchNarrator=Bahni+Turpin

https://diversebooks.org/

https://www.facebook.com/ACThomasAuthor/

https://www.lamargiles.com/

http://writeinbk.com/

 

lisakrok– Lisa Krok is a longtime fan of hip-hop, especially Queens Latifah and Nicki, along with the legendary Biggie. Her rap generator name is “Bad Swerve”. Lisa is a die-hard YA reader and a Ravenclaw, with a passion for reaching reluctant readers. She served on the 2019 and 2018 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers teams. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

#SVYALit Book Review: Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel

Publisher’s description

raniAlmost seventeen, Rani Patel appears to be a kick-ass Indian girl breaking cultural norms as a hip-hop performer in full effect. But in truth, she’s a nerdy flat-chested nobody who lives with her Gujarati immigrant parents on the remote Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, isolated from her high school peers by the unsettling norms of Indian culture where “husband is God.” Her parents’ traditionally arranged marriage is a sham. Her dad turns to her for all his needs—even the intimate ones. When Rani catches him two-timing with a woman barely older than herself, she feels like a widow and, like widows in India are often made to do, she shaves off her hair. Her sexy bald head and hard-driving rhyming skills attract the attention of Mark, the hot older customer who frequents her parents’ store and is closer in age to her dad than to her. Mark makes the moves on her and Rani goes with it. He leads Rani into 4eva Flowin’, an underground hip hop crew—and into other things she’s never done. Rani ignores the red flags. Her naive choices look like they will undo her but ultimately give her the chance to discover her strengths and restore the things she thought she’d lost, including her mother.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

After I finished this book, I was torn between racing upstairs to write about it and racing upstairs to listen to a whole bunch of pre-90s hip hop. Writing now, music later. Yes, yes, y’all.

This review will have spoilers, so if you want to go in not knowing anything beyond what the blurb up there tells you, beware. The bottom line of this review is GO BUY THIS BOOK. Remember how it seems like the only stories that I can actually stick with reading these days (during The Great Reading Slump of 2016) are ones that feel completely fresh and new? Here’s another that fits that bill. I just want to see stories told by people we haven’t seen before and we get that in RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT.

Set on Moloka’i, a Hawaiian island, in 1991, Gujarati Indian Rani Patel is about to turn 17. She works at the general store and the restaurant that her parents own and is fairly miserable. Her parents, who had an arranged marriage, have a volatile relationship—her mother is often on the verge of suicide and her father is increasingly distant, relying on Rani to smooth things over for him, which, in addition to being a totally inappropriate expectation of a child, has left Rani and her mom near strangers to each other. She’s senior class president, but, as she points out, only because no one else ran. She has a couple of close-ish guy friends, Pono and Omar, but she isn’t exactly confessing any of her thoughts and feelings to them. She’s crushing on older white dude Mark (like, older-older: he’s 31). She’s also a rapper, known as MC Sutra, who’s constantly writing new lyrics. When we meet Rani, she’s just shaved off all of her hair and just seen her father with his mistress. Her relationship with her father is complex. Like, WAY complex. He’s always treated her as his little princess and lavished her with affection and attention. HERE COME SOME OF THOSE SPOILERS I TOLD YOU ABOUT. He’s also been sexually abusing her. It would be an understatement to say that her eventual relationship with Mark (31-year-old Mark) can be seen as a result of what has happened to her as she seeks some attention and validation from an older man who, much like her father, is a pretty awful person. And (SPOILER), just like her father, Mark rapes her, too.

 

The thing that seems to be saving Rani is music. She gets an invitation to audition for an underground hip hop crew and is completely surprised when she sees who is already in the crew. Rani pours her heart into the rhymes that she spits, revealing more about herself and the other women in her family. She’s smart and political and a feminist. But she’s also just a kid who has had some really horrific stuff happen to her. It’s hard to watch her make cruddy choices over and over again. There are many lines in my notes that simply note the place I was at in the book followed by UGH. She is a kid who has had horrible stuff go on, had no real support system, had no therapy, and now is replicating many of the same troubling dynamics and not learning who to stay the hell away from. She also blames herself for everything that has happened to her, which resulted in lots of “Oh, Rani, no” in my notes. Through music, she works out some of what she’s feeling and what has happened to her, and to other women in her family. Through music, she finds a community and real friendship, honesty, and support. 

 

Overall, I found this to be a really interesting look at both a place and characters I haven’t seen in YA. Are we calling books set in the 90s historical fiction? The 1991 setting felt important because of the music that means so much to Rani. Will contemporary teen readers feel the impact of her references? Maybe not. A glossary in the back defines not just Gujarati words but also Hawaiian words, Hawaiian pidgin, and late 80s/early 90s slang. While it took me a little bit to get into the book, and the pacing toward the end felt rushed, once I got into the story, I couldn’t put it down. The author, a psychiatrist, includes a long note at the end saying that, like Rani, she is a Gujarati Indian who lived on Mokoka’i and loved hip hop. She also tells readers that she’s a psychiatrist and talks at length about sexual abuse and how it has affected Rani. She also offers resources. Rani’s story is one of growth and empowerment and is a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781941026502

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Publication date: 10/11/2016