Coe, Booth. Tyrell. Scholastic Press, 2006, 310 pages. Tr., $8.99. ISBN: 978-0439838801
Plot: A fifteen-year-old boy is faced with hard choices as he tries to overcome the bad decisions of his parents. Now homeless and in a shelter with his mother and young brother, Tyrell craves stability and a future, but fast fixes to the immediate situation, he knows, will only bring long-term pain. His father’s jail sentence is enough to show him that.
Tyrell’s mother is little help. A careless guardian with get-rich-quick schemes, she is impractical to the core. Because of this, Tyrell has to step up even more to protect his little brother.
To complicate matters even more, Tyrell’s girlfriend is being seriously hassled by another boy at school. And then he meets a new girl at the shelter, and there’s something about her. How will Tyrell find some stability for himself and his little brother?
Critical Evaluation: Coe Booth has taken her own experience of life in the city and developed characters on the edge who ring with humanity. Although some of the situations seem like stereotypes at first, the details make them realistic. Tyrell’s voice as a narrator rings true, with pain, confusion and determination. Booth’s use of slang and local dialects feels very realistic and brings more immediacy – and a poetic rhythm – to the storytelling.
Tyrell’s conflicts – which multiply – also feel very real. He loves his girlfriend, but he’s intrigued by this new girl, and that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad guy. He is confused, and with good reason.
As Tyrell moves through the story, his life gets even more complicated as he himself is offered easy answers and quick fixes. He is right to be suspicious. Booth has created a character who is complicated and fascinating. She generally withholds judgment, favoring a more documentary-style approach (through Tyrell’s eyes). In the end, the writer has crafted a story that is gripping and poignant. She takes this story well beyond the basic urban fiction and into the realm of the best YA fiction.
Reader’s Annotation: Tyrell is down and out and on the edge. Torn between his long-term girlfriend and a sexy new girl, desperate to get his brother out of the homeless shelter in which his mom has landed them, he has to make some tough choices, fast.
Author bio: Coe Booth was raised in the Bronx and she has been a writer since the second grade. One of the jobs that she had in college was teaching memoir writing to senior citizens, a job that connected her to history and inspired her writing.
After college, she worked with teens, many of whom were homeless, neglected, or in crisis. This experience was the inspiration for Tyrell and its follow-up novels, Kendra, and Bronxwood. She is currently teaching writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and working on a novel for middle schoolers.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Curriculum Ties: N/A
Booktalking Ideas: 1) Begin a discussion – What is the worst situation someone could be in? 2) Discuss homeless families and some problems they may have getting out of the situation.
3) Pose a “What would you do?’ questioning after laying down the scenario of the book.
Reading Level: 5th grade
Interest Age: grade nine and up
Challenge Issues: Sexual content, drug use, language
How to respond: Emphasize book’s honest take on a real social issue. Talk about the “ripped-from-the-headlines” story. Having stories such as these on hand might help: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/22/homeless-families-increase_n_800040.html
Also, have starred reviews of the book on hand: http://www.amazon.com/Tyrell-Push-Coe-Booth/dp/0439838797
Why Included: Winner of Los Angeles Times Book Prize for YA Fiction in 2007. Very popular with struggling readers.