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Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Let Me Hear a Rhyme Book Poster Image
Teens try to make murdered friend a rap star in fun caper.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The history of hip-hop music is woven into the story. The events of the story (much told in flashbacks) begin in 1998, so the musical heroes for the teens in the story might be historical figures to teens reading the novel in 2019.

Positive Messages

Good things come to people who are true to their friends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Positive gender representation is a particular strength of this book. Boys and girls are depicted as equally talented, strong, and determined and treat one another with respect. There are explicit conversations among the girls about gender issues. Almost all of the characters are motivated by aspirations for the future, from the mother who pushes her son to get into a better school to the kids who want to see their dead friend's music produced professionally. Drug dealers and drug dealing are featured in the story, presented as the trap everyone works to escape. There's a fun short passage where the Brooklyn kids engage with a teen who speaks in Jamaican patois.

Violence

There are a few minor scenes of violence described, including a young man shoved in the street by police. The more serious violence -- several murders -- take place off camera. Gang violence is a major theme of this book.

Sex

There are many detailed, erotic descriptions of kisses. The concept of consent is presented very skillfully. On multiple occasions, a couple discusses whether or not they are "ready" for sex.

Language

There is a lot of cursing, including "f--k", "motherf----r," "s--t," and "ass." The language seems authentic, spoken by hip-hop producers and kids who emulate the style of recording artists who speak that way.

Consumerism

The most popular commercial rappers of the era are frequently mentioned. The kids' big dream is getting their friend signed by a record company.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Substance use is never depicted as a positive thing, but it plays a major role in the story. There are scenes of teens drinking shots. There are also a few times when a character is in possession of crack cocaine bound for sale.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Let Me Hear a Rhyme, by Tiffany D. Jackson (Monday's Not Coming), is a caper about three African American teens in 1998 Brooklyn who try to promote their murdered friend's rap music and, in the process, solve the mystery surrounding his death. There's a lot of cursing, including "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," and "ass." The plot involves gangs who deal crack. Teens are shown in possession of the drug. There are a few scenes of teens doing shots of liquor. Multiple murders take place in the course of the story, though they are not directly shown. A boy is shoved to the ground by police officers. A girl is stalked in the street by gang members and rescued from the situation by friends. There are several lingering kissing scenes, with a nuanced depiction of consent discussions between couples as well as the thought process involved in being "ready" for sex.

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What's the story?

When LET ME HEAR A RHYME begins, it's 1998 and mourners have gathered in their Brooklyn neighborhood to remember Steph, a teen rapper who was murdered. His sister, Jasmine, and friends, Quadir and Jarrell, are determined not to let Steph's music die with him. Posing as his managers, they get his work produced in a studio, played on the radio, and get him signed to a label -- all while trying to solve the mystery of his death.

Is it any good?

This fun caper is full of admirable, lovable characters, and despite some dark subject matter -- gang violence, drug dealing, and the difficulty of rising from poverty -- it's uplifting and hopeful. Let Me Hear a Rhyme is Tiffany D. Jackson's third novel, and her mastery of her craft is apparent. She has a great ear for dialogue; the Brooklyn teens speak and narrate in authentic dialect. The point of view alternates among the three main characters, and the story is easy to follow through the different accounts. Each individual seems fully developed.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the teens and families in Let Me Hear a Rhyme aim to improve their lives. One student is applying to a better school. Others hope to make their friend a star. One considers joining a gang. What's the appeal of that, and why does she hesitate?

  • Let Me Hear a Rhyme is set in the context of the crack "epidemic" in urban areas. How have attitudes about drugs, alcohol, and smoking evolved over time?

  • The story is told through the voices of three different teens. How does this help you understand their world? How does the voice of the girl differ from that of the boys?

  • The kids tell the story in the dialect of their Brooklyn neighborhood. That includes slang and also a lot of cursing. Why do you think the author made that choice?

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