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Graphic portrayal of homelessness; best for older teens.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

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

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).

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Coe Booth
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Inc.
Publication date:October 1, 2006
Number of pages:310
Publisher's recommended age(s):15

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written bygarry207 April 6, 2009

ITS .......

omg this is the best book ever i nvr read till this book
Teen, 17 years old Written byall about my boo August 21, 2009

many people can relate

i love this book. im 13 but i relate to almost everything in this book. i would recomend this book to any age child that is in any type of situation as the characters in the book or me. to tell the truth this is my favorite and best book i have ever layed eyes on!!!!!! I LOVE THIS BOOK!i jus got done finishin readin it a week and a half ago and its like all i wanted to do was keep readin and readin and readin even in the tub.... it made me really upset win i had to stop........
Teen, 15 years old Written bySilverwillow November 29, 2009
I love this book. It relates with me in so many ways and it also helped me to be aware of the world we live on which one is realistic...and it has so many questions to ask but few answers to find. In my opinion, this is a very educational book, it will help teenagers to appreciate more what they have.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Educational value


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