CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006
At 17, Tyrone Johnson is in charge of maintaining the family business, running drugs while his father, Orlando, waits to be released from prison. Like those around him in the drug trade, Ty has a great admiration for Orlando, a man who has earned the respect of rival gangs for his fair and unbiased dealing. Ty works hard to emulate his father, fashioning himself into a ‘king-of-the-streets’ who is known for savvy dealing, women and wealth. It is not until the shooting death of his best friend and associate, Sonny, that Ty admits to himself that he is being used by his father and that he wants out of the business for good.
Street Pharm is a successful first novel that satisfyingly captures the tone and atmosphere of street life in a large, mainly poor urban environment where drugs and violence are often the norm. The work does not shy away from potentially controversial elements, such as the portrayal of sexist attitudes towards women or the use of profane language. Indeed, these contribute to the authenticity of the novel’s voice and characterization.
The work’s only notable shortcoming is the abruptness of Ty’s decision to change his ways following Sonny’s death. On the one hand, Ty has both his commitment to his father and enough wealth to be able to live the ‘high’ life. On the other hand, Ty recognizes his strong feelings for Alyse, knowing that she will reject him if he is dealing drugs. For a young man raised in an environment where dealing is normalized, the weight of Ty’s decision could have been explored more deeply. It is the point where the reader really begins to see the sensitive person behind the wall of self-confidence.
The coarse language will likely find this work more comfortable in public library collections where its short chapters (the excerpt above is a standalone chapter itself), emphasis on action, and plenty of bling will appeal particularly to mature male teens. Pair this work with Benjamin Zephaniah’s Gangsta Rap or Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers, for those interested in the experience of the young black male involved in gang or rap culture.
Thom Knutson is Saskatoon Public Library’s Youth Services Coordinator.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.