Coe Booth

I once dated a female from Queens who had been in and out of shelters for a very long time(TMI) lol. She also had kids. When I went to visit her, she had finally gotten a place in the projects. I am familiar with the story which is told in Both’s novel “Tyrell”.

It gives a face to a problem which many Americans don’t care to see. She paints a realistic portrait of the day-to-day struggles that exists for millions of Americans who live without shelter.

The main character (Tyrell) is a high school drop out who has numerous problems that he faces at only 14. His father is in jail (again) and his mother is a second rate parent wanting her son to take care of her. Tyrell is forced to become a man before his time and must take care of his family. His girlfriend Novisha was his soul mate before she lied to him. He eventually meets Jasmine and they become friends.

These poor kids (Jasmine and Tyrell) are constantly being taken advantage of by adults. Although Tyrell is constantly being faced with opportunities to partake in illegal activities, he is seen continuosly fighting the temptation.

 This narrative is spoken through the first person. The first person is Tyrell,  so many would believe that the story is being told through a black male perspective. However, as one may continue to read, he or she may find that a womans voice becomes apparent. It is obvious that Tyrell is a sexually intrigued young man who likes women. The evidence becomes apparent in the various scenes where he asks Novisha to “take care of him” meaning they would interact in oral sex. As a young man who liked to be with women sexually, however, he often found himself in positions where he should not have been able to resist. He is seen sleeping with Jasmine (a very attractive latino women) but nothing happened. It is apparent that Booth’s voice comes through the character and I don’t know if this was done purposely. However, this novel is written through a womanist perspective (black feminists) and these types of novels are very often found at the top of the bestsellers lists. This is especially true when one compares novels written about black men where the black male characters “count” verses a novel written where they are seen to be considerably “less than” average. All of the black men in Both’s novel are dealing with some kind of problem and there is not one (black man) that amounts to any good.  There were no black men for Tyrell to look up to. It is true that his mother was not that exceptional either but Novisha’s mom was a very positive role model for Tyrell.

This omission of reponsible black men seems to be the secret of success for novels written from the “black perspective”. It has become the equation for black success novels. The plot has to be as follows: Black women characters or families without average men plus poverty, minus exceptional black men characters, equal a successful black novel which are usually written by black women. This has also been the case for many black movies and plays (the Color Purple, Beloved, A Raisen in the Sun).

When I initially began reading this novel, I believed that it would be best if it were critiqued through an African American Perspective. I now believe that perhaps analyzing this novel through a Feminist perspective would give the readers more insight. It would certainly give the author more justice.

Ray C.

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2 responses to “Coe Booth

  1. canadawr5

    Preach on, brotha!

  2. sunyprof

    I see lots of possibilities here for critique–for sure Ray. Have you taken a look at the author’s MySpace page? Pretty interesting.

    Here I’m sharing what Jim Blasingame, one of the editors of ALAN REVIEW and an Arizona State U English Education professor, says about the book in the Winter, ’07 issue:

    “‘What a Man Do’: Coe Booth and the Genesis of Tyrell

    I get lots of emails from boys on my MySpace site. I got one, for example, from a fifteen-year-old boy who said Tyrell was the first book he’s ever read. They email me to say that they don’t like to read or that they start books but never finish them. And they are writing to tell me that they finished Tyrell. They always tell how long it took, like ‘I finished this in three days!’

    Kids write me, too, who live lives that are nothing like Tyrell’s, who also like the book. About the only question they have in common is will there be a part two, and then they tell me the issues they want resolved in the sequel: What will happen to Jasmine, When will Tyrell’s father get out, all the things they want me to address.

    Coe’s autobiography is available on her website. She tells the reader that she is a true native of New York City, and grew up in a working class neighborhood of mostly immigrants (like her mother, who is from Guyana) in the Bronx. She led the happy, normal childhood of an urban child: “dancing school [. . . piano lessons [. . .] jumping double Dutch and riding my bike up and down the block with my friends. Parking lots were our playgrounds and fire hydrants were our sprinklers on hot, sticky summer days. It was great! (Booth 1)

    She also explains that she has been a novelist since second grade although her masterpieces were sometimes confiscated by unappreciative teachers. By the time she was in middle school, however, she was well-known as a writer among her peers, and just as the manuscript for Tyrell would eventually be critiqued by her peers, her fellow middle school students enjoyed reading her ‘novels-in-progress’ and begged her to keep writing (Booth 1).

    And, thank goodness, she has!! Her second book, KENDRA is now in progress.”

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