Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Twists and Turns

McDonald, Janet. 2003. TWISTS AND TURNS. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
ISBN 0374399557 [Suggested Grade Levels Young Adult]

Crammed packed with courage, perseverance, and humor, this young adult novel by Janet McDonald is an even balance of obstacles and wit. Keeba and Teesha Washington have just graduated from Brooklyn Heights High School. Somehow they have managed to avoid “the pitfalls of pregnancy, drugs, crime, and gang activities.” Living with their mother in the projects and existing on their deceased father’s pension and with what little money they make braiding hair, they are heading in the same direction as most of their peers, “bench gossipers.” Thanks to the inspiration, financial support, and encouragement of three of their friends who have managed to escape the projects, the sisters begin to believe that they can do the same. With the coaxing and help of their family, the girls open a hair-braiding salon called TeeKee’s Tresses in a rented storefront. After weathering greedy landlords, lying politicians, vandals, and jealous rivals, the sisters persevere and refuse to give way to the pressures. The characters exhibit both strength and self-destructive brushes with the way things have always “come down” in the projects. Their vulnerability is often seen and brings a rawness and immediacy to the “twists and turns” of their lives. During every crisis, their inner strength, tenacity, strong family ties and friendships cause them to land solidly on their feet and with their dignity in tact.

McDonald’s vivid, lucid, and authentic language is dramatic, riveting, and captures the everyday struggle of the community. Loud, rowdy, sassy, and harsh, the project’s occupants have a way of communicating their feelings in a poignant way, which adds to the authenticity of this outstanding novel (e.g. “They are getting a tasteful of what we have been chewing on for decades…the crumb of poverty…Brake yaself, sucka…
Wassup…Fuggedaboutit…Whatevuh…Ah-ight Tee. Holla atcha…simmah down nah…Sho nuff”). Teens will respond to the way the sisters and their friends manage to endure all of the hardships and maintain their sense of humor in the process.

Teens could discuss how important it is to build friendships inside and outside the home. They could discuss how accepting different backgrounds can bring strengths to relationships, and what it means to be vulnerable and how vulnerability can serve a relationship. They could discuss how we are all capable of healing the hurt or meeting the needs of others. A project to feed or clothe or visit the elderly, disabled, or terminally ill can be considered.

Other books by McDonald that could be compared with this one:
CHILL WIND. ISBN 0374399581

By Rita Pickett

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