From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9–Nate Whitely, 16, attends an exclusive boarding school on scholarship while trying to remain loyal to his Harlem roots. He gets along equally well in both worlds, with only a quick change from school uniform to do-rag and bomber jacket in the men's room at Grand Central Terminal. Like most of the novel, this symbol of Nate's conflicted identity hits readers over the head. McDonald's painstaking descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of Harlem, though authentic, grow tiresome and precious and take up space better used for character development, which is not to say that she doesn't offer plentiful detail, describing the characters' outfits down to the brand names. Though she may have intended to comment on the branding of teen America, the focus on the characters' fashions pegs them in exactly the stereotypes–thug, preppy, rich bitch, wanna-be–that Nate struggles against. Despite the author's mastery of the cadence and slang of black teenage speech, much of the dialogue is stilted and expository. Only Nate's interaction with Spencer, a Jewish student who passes as a wealthy WASP, is fresh and provocative enough to leave readers wanting more. Walter Dean Myers's The Beast
(Scholastic, 2003) is a more graceful and satisfying story of a Harlem teen caught between opportunity and loyalty.–Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
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Gr. 7-12. The author of Chill Wind
(2002) and other great titles about project girls tells a boy's story here. Nate, 16, is happy to have won a scholarship to a prestigious prep school, but he belongs with his Harlem street-smart friends as much as in the mainly white school, where girls find him "cute," and boys like to shoot hoops with him. The problem is he's just too perfect, and the message about the successful kid who doesn't reject his roots is overstated. But, as always with McDonald's work, it's the anger, sadness, and laugh-out-loud honesty about the contemporary scene that will hold readers. Illegal stuff goes on at school, but Nate's friends and a drug-dealing brother at home really show how close the boy is to dropping off the edge. The best scenes depict Nate's worlds colliding, as when the classmate he loves comes with him to Harlem and when he visits her snobbish, black bourgeois family. With all the laughter and trouble, this is a stirring celebration of Harlem, its roots, diversity, and change. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved