When I read If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson back in spring, I was completely blown away by the beauty and the tragedy of it. It’s a simple, lovely novel that has the power to change lives. So really if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review and go read If you come softly. You won’t regret it. After reading it, I wanted to read every Jacqueline Woodson book I could get my hands on, so when I saw After Tupac and D Foster on my library shelf, I grabbed it right away.
Where If you come softly was a story about romantic love, After Tupac and D Foster is the story of three black girls who are best friends, Neeka, D and our narrator. D mysteriously enters their lives the summer before they turn twelve and just as quickly leaves right after they turn 13. Tupac plays an important role in the girls’ lives, with the book beginning when Tupac was shot for the first time and ending with his death. D looks up to Tupac and she feels as though he is talking directly to her through his music. They become closer friends through their passion for the musician and it gives the novel the perfect arc.
What I loved best about After Tupac and D Foster was the narrator and her voice. She’s very mature, but not unbelievable, and she is just looking for a little bit of beauty in the world. The novel captures an era and a place perfectly. The love that the three girls share is so perfectly described, but it manages to be about bigger things than that. It is a short book, but one that encompasses so many parts of life, from the challenges to the perfect moments. I loved the inclusion of Tupac in this book because it puts it in a precise moment of time, New York in the 90s. Tupac is a fascinating man and I highly recommend the VH1 documentary about his life. There are so many things that I didn’t know about him, but having watched the documentary beforehand really gave me a greater sense of the emotional way that the girls reacted to Tupac and just how important he really was (and is).
But Woodson does not stop at the girls’ friendship or their relationship with Tupac. There is so much more in this book and it’s amazing how much Woodson captures in 150 pages. One of the most touching scenes is when the narrator and Neeka go visit Neeka’s brother Tash in jail. He was wrongfully accused of assaulting an old friend, but really it was a crime against Tash, in which he was beaten as well. Tash, a gay man, must avoid being beaten or worse in prison and he has a conversation with his mother that will absolutely break your heart.
“Why did you roam, though?” I asked. Whenever D talked about her roaming, I always asked why. I wanted to understand — deep — what it was like to step outside. [...]
“Uptown they got those fancy buildings. Out in Brooklyn they got those pretty brownstone houses. West side got Central Park and people going all over the place in those bright yellow taxicabs.” D looked at us and I knew a part of her knew how much me and Neeka lived for the rare moments when she showed us where she’d been and, by doing so, we got to go to those places too.
And then it made sense to me — crazy-fast sense in a way it hadn’t before. D walked out of her own life each time she stepped into one of those other places. She got off the bus or walked up out of the subway and her life disappeared, got replaced by that new place, those new strangers — like big pink erasers. Before me and Neeka started asking D about her life, we were erasers too — she got to step into our world with all the trees and mamas calling from windows and kids playing on the block, and forget (18).
And that is exactly what Woodson does for her readers. You so perfectly step into this world, onto this street and you are completely with the three girls that it does not feel like you are reading a story, it’s more real than that. There are many other passages that I want to quote for you, but I think I’ll let you discover them for yourself. Jacqueline Woodson has done it again and I plan on reading everything she has ever written, because if all her books are only half as good as If you come softly and After Tupac and D Foster then they will all be excellent.
So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR