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Imagine you are an adolescent boy-man, footing it on your board through the streets of Oaktown, your only priorities being school and staying alive. Then imagine adulthood as a world of confusion and absence. That gives you an idea of the life of Jamie, Jamar and Chad, three of the protagonists of this debut collection of stories by the 15-year-old Apollo. These six stories, held together by recurring themes and imagines, bring the average reader of literary fiction knee-deep up inside of the lyricism of rap, grunge, and American youth culture. The writing is edgy, sophisticated, and poignant without posturing or rank commercialism. The protege of Jess Mowry (Way Past Cool), Apollo writes stories that are a trip through the West Coast of Freestyle Fellowship, the Pharcyde and Beastie Boys. With poise, control and an ear finely tuned to the pulse of popular culture, Apollo describes coming of age in the inner city as only an insider could. The frustration common to the theme is muted and humorous, especially when describing the dichotomies of urban and suburban life: "The decaying brick-and-concrete jungle of the boys' neighborhood faded from their minds as they entered a world of happy kids and fluffy animals: the Oakland Zoo." Fresh and poetic, Apollo's style is at times childlike, and at its best evokes echoes of Roald Dahl and of Jean-Michel Basquiat's neo-expressionistic paintings. Concrete Candy is an elegant and deceptively unaffected book: it may simply be his age that gives his work the raw original flavor, but that hardly matters.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A first collection depicting life in the black ghetto of Oakland, California, by a pseudonymous author who began writing it three years ago, when only 12 years old. Oakland novelist Jess Mowry, who has acted as ``Apollo's'' mentor, shepherded into book form the six vivid stories that comprise this auspicious, if awkward, debut. The stories, all dealing with the disillusionments and dangers of growing up black in the inner city, are essentially thin and unvaryingly predictable and sentimental. ``Four Wolves and a Panther'' tells of a lonely white kid, ignored by his family, who yearns to be black--and culminates in a ``surprise'' ending that won't surprise anybody. ``Jungle Game'' grafts an unbelievable plot onto a dreamy boy's willed identification with a black panther (a recurring image) abused by its keeper at the city zoo. Other pieces are similarly marred by hyperbole, though Apollo produces some gritty dramatic effects in two tales of teenagers lured into drug-related violence: ``Trash Walks'' and (especially) ``Bad Boyz,'' the latter of which hums with a surrealistic intensity that's briefly reminiscent of Richard Wright. Is there talent here? Absolutely--in Apollo's ability to move a story swiftly toward its conclusion, in sharp observations of his neighborhoods' blighted lunar landscapes, and in his precocious and obviously genuine obsession with important social issues and tensions. But his people aren't real yet: All his male protagonists are either grossly overweight or sleekly, gracefully muscular; his women are either nagging mothers or docile girlfriends; his white characters, with a single exception, racist imbeciles. This isn't what life is like; it's what life seems like to a sensitive preadolescent. Mowry was surely right to encourage Apollo to write fiction- -and Gloria Naylor was as surely wrong to include his work in her Best Short Stories by Black Writers. What this promising young writer needs now is, simply, more practice writing; less premature praise; and more stringent editing. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.See all Editorial Reviews