Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Tyrell Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Graphic portrayal of homelessness; best for older teens.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 32 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This book can help teen readers confront a series of questions, such as what they would do if they were in Tyrell's situation? Is there an easy moral solution? Families interested in broader discussions may want to examine our "Families Can Talk About" section.

Positive Messages

This award-winning book provides an honest look into the harsh realities that many kids face growing up poor in the inner city. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character, though skipping school and engaging in a variety of petty crimes to survive, draws the line at drug dealing, despite pressure from his mother. He comes up with a solution that he hopes will help his family escape their situation (and keep his younger brother out of foster care).


Some fights, spousal abuse, discussions of why women "sometimes need to be beaten."


None described, but young teens (13 and up) have sex, oral sex, masturbate, make out, strip, do lap dances. Adults leer at teens and have sexual encounters with them. Prostitution and pimping.


Use of four-letter words and other swearing (including the n-word, used colloquially) is near constant.


Several fast food restaurants mentioned repeatedly, electronics brands, video game consoles.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters, including teens, smoke tobacco and marijuana, drink and get drunk; references to harder drugs. This behavior is not glamorized, but it is prevalent in the world Tyrell inhabits. A parent even encourages her son to sell drugs (he refuses).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book about inner-city life is a better fit for older teens. Tyrell does his best to help his family and keep his younger brother out of foster care, but his story is full of gritty details. Indeed, Tyrell is loaded with sex, language, and drugs, all of which are engaged in by the main character, who is 15. Swearing (including the "N" word, used colloquially) is frequent, as are sexual encounters between teens and sometimes between teens and adults. Most of the characters, including the main character and his mother, use marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, and some secondary characters use and sell harder drugs; adults (including parents) give alcohol and marijuana to minors.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byFliptop September 25, 2010

Fliptop's Review of Tyrell...

When I read the first sentence of this book, it intrigued me to continue. This book I believe is very educational, because it talks about a differernt culture,... Continue reading
Parent of a 15-year-old Written byZelda Chandler June 21, 2010
To be truthful - this book bored me. There was lots of swearing, references to drug and alcohol use, and criminal activities.
The story line was - to me - kind... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bybig.blrdd February 18, 2021


This book actually has a good theme. It's not like it has straight up nasty scenes. Your child should be mature enough to read this. This book is so good,... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byNoelcole November 7, 2019

Not a good book

The doesn’t have enough action characters are badly developed has bad examples

What's the story?

Nothing is working for Tyrell. His father has been sent to jail again, and his mother, unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the family, has lost their apartment, leaving them homeless. Unable to get homeless housing because of the mother's previous attempts to scam the system, Tyrell, his self-centered mother, and his younger brother end up being placed in a single room in a roach-infested motel with no provision for food, and seemingly no way out. Tyrell, trying the best a young teen can to provide for his family and keep his brother out of foster care, drops out of school.

Though he is not above petty crime to buy food, Tyrell resists his mother's efforts to push him into selling drugs. Instead he pins all of his hopes on planning an underground party -- with the money he can make there he hopes to get his family an apartment. But to pull it off he has to rely on others, few of whom are reliable, and most of whom are only out for themselves.

Is it any good?

This powerful and gritty first novel by Coe Booth, a former crisis-center worker from the Bronx, clearly and grippingly portrays the reality of millennial inner-city life. It addresses the hard and limited choices, the despair, the waste of human potential, but also the relentless and determined efforts of some to take even one small step on the road out. Despite its difficult content it should have a place in any high school or college class on modern social problems.

Everything rings true here -- events, characters, attitudes, even the use of dialect. Booth never makes an awkward slip, and Tyrell's voice resonates in the reader's head like that of a real person. Even the ending remains utterly true and faithful to the situation and characters. This is a very auspicious debut.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Tyrell's life in the inner-city. What other movies or books do you know that take place in a similar environment? What are some of the things that are common in inner-city stories? How is this one different?

  • Do you think this book was meant for teens growing up like Tyrell -- or for kids living in different types of environments? Who did the author write this book for?

  • This book won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction. Why do you think it received that honor? Are you more interested in a book if it has won an award or earned good reviews -- or do you like to make your own judgments?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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