Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

I typically like novels in verse, but I confess I had some trepidation about this book. I wasn't sure how I was going to like it- novels in verse is one thing, but novels in rap?? But knowing Walter Dean Myers I thought it surely must be a worthy read. I wasn't disappointed at all. It did take me some time to get the rhythm of the words down, after that I had no problem reading it. And it went beyond rap, beyond the words of the inner city. The rhymes and free verse were incredible. There were times I had to stop and reread passages because the imagergy and language were so powerful, and beautiful.

As I was reading I kept thinking that kids would love this book, and what a great companion piece to Romeo and Juliet it would be. Although, I have to say, I was disappointed in the end...I thought it would be more Romeo and Juliet like. Not that I wanted anyone to die but I thought that was were the story was heading. And, when it didn't go in that direction I wanted Damian to help Junice certainly, but not go with her! Yikes...what was he thinking, he was on his way to Brown. So much for being a romantic! I was torn. But what a great example of love across social and economic lines and the resilience of the human spirit. I also thought this would be a great book to use as a readers' theatre choice, or perhaps to pair with Langston Huges poetry. Lots of potential.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts.


Dawn said...

Street Love was not my favorite book thus far. It was an easy read, but I struggled getting into it. It did have similarities to Romeo and Juliet, which is not one of my favorite pieces. However, students tend to enjoy Romeo and Juliet, so I think they may enjoy Street Love too. I would think about using this as a literature circle selection.

As for specific details, I felt for Junice and her sister throughout the book. It was difficult for me to relate to, as I grew up in a bubble and was very sheltered from many issues that other people faced. I worry that many students will see the ending as Junice and Damien living happily ever after when in reality the likelihood of their relationship lasting is probably slim. I never really get a sense for what Damien actually sees in Junice, other than the initial attraction, which I believe is physical. I don’t feel Junice has time for Damien because she has to deal with deeper troubles, like family and survival. In my view it is a book about two teens that end up infatuated with each other, not in love with each other.

One question I had near the end was what happens when Damien’s mother begins to look for him? What will he do? If Junice is so into family and Damien is not into his own family, will Junice look down upon him? Their values seem to be different, which leads me to believe that the relationship is doomed.

As mentioned above, I do believe that some students would enjoy this book. I think there are valuable lessons to be learned from this book, but I believe they have to be tackled in a delicate manner.

Cathy said...

I had never read a novel in verse before. I loved this book. I kept saying how could he get so much emotion into so few words. Usually when I read I see a movie in my mind in this instance I saw vignettes, paintings vivid colors for the emotions.
As to the plot unfortunately I could see this really happening. There were so many things that happen in the "inner city" First there were the 2 mothers. One mother in troulble with the law and wanting her child to help her. The other mother too overbearing planning for Damien. Both mothers left the fathers out of the picture. If Damien's father had more to say he might have been able to help Damien understand about his "love". Also the system seemed real. Junice had no alternative but to leave or enter the system. I find it interesting how the idea of family is stressed in Junice's family especially when her mother needs her help. The real problem is the difficulty faced in trying to change your circumstances. It seems that every novel we have read is tragic for the minority. I would love a sequal because what chance to 2 high school dropouts with a minor child have of making it?

Rascalii said...


Rascalii said...

Finally, I'm in....

I have to agree to everything that has been said so far. It is all correct, but what I look for in literature is not always real unless it is nonfiction. I like literature to take me off into the whatever...That's why, I believe, that R & J has such appeal. My students keep asking, "How could that all happen in about three days? How could they fall in love so fast?" I guess I am a romantic because I believe that life can be like that. Maybe not all of the time or for everybody, but there's a possibility and as long as there is a chance of any kind, it's real or can be. And if it can't be real, that's what dreams are for.
I fell into this book (devoured it up is more like it). The ending was the way that I would have wanted it to happen. I don't care how practical it is. It's a story. It takes you away into the land of "What if?" and I feel that that is what literature should do..explore our deepest possibilities and help us to discover, without fear of what is "right" or "wrong", what we would do if we had another lifetime to do what we really wanted to do, not what we are expected to do. I cheered the three young teens who had the courage to step outside of the system and to do what they felt was right, regardless of the consequences. They are heroes who followed their hearts. The plot line and the style were refreshing.
It was a quick read that would fit right in with today's taste.

Pam L said...


Pam L said...

A very different read! I agree that the poetic description is beautiful. I started reading this several times at night when I was very tired so it took me a few short sessions before I understood the rhythm and felt comfortable with the diction. At first, I just thought I was going to be confused by the language the whole time, but finally became acclimated.

I think this would be a good read for literature circles; however, I think I'd have to choose the group carefully. Students would have to read very carefully and I know some of my more challenged students would be turned off by the verse. On the other hand, some of them might be interested because it's really rap. I'd be walking a thin line with some of them. I can see using this as a comparative piece with Romeo and Juliet; however, I don't see that I'd have the time to read it in class so it would have to be an at- home read which would mean I could probably only do this with my honors kids. With the CT and Regents classes, it takes so long to get through Romeo and Juliet that I can't see adding this to the unit.

I think the characters and the conflicts would encourage great conversation in any class. I loved the way Myers focused so intensely on the emotional side of this new relationship. The attraction was physical but we got no details about how physical the relationship became. There seems to be a great amount of respect between these two young people. (Some would say that this is often true in the beginning of an infatuation when two people are on their "best behavior" and that's true.) This is an important discussion piece because it breaks the stereotype to which we are accustomed when thinking about inner city neighborhoods. We think of gangs who hate each other without really knowing each other, broken families, easy access to drugs and alcohol, homelessness, physical abuse, jail time. We don't hear too many positive stories--we see the potential for those positive stories in the characters of Janice and Damien and their respect and feelings for each other. Ironically, they have to physically leave the life they know to start a new life. Janice's reputation was jaded by her mother's life style and crimes. She was doing her best to survive but knew she couldn't do it there. Damien's choice to follow her similarly fits the types of choices made in Romeo and Juliet (some of them, anyway).

I enjoyed this very much!

Amanda said...

When I first opened the book and saw the way it was written, I really didn't think I would like it, but after just the first few pages I really enjoyed the rhyming and flow of the words. I too reread some lines because of the beautiful way they sounded. As far as the plot goes, I beleived that it portrayed realistic situations of two different families living in the city. I did have a problem with how the book ended. I just kept thinking how unrealistic it was the the realtionship between Damien and Junice would actually last, especially considering the immense pressure the relationship will be under because of Junice's situation. It would have been nice to follow the couple a bit farther and see what struggles they encounter, how they handle them and how it affects their relationship. I am always uneasy when these difficult life situations are glorified; I think the book gives an unrealistic "easy ending". But I'm not a romantic, more of a realist :)
I think students would definitely enjoy this book and it is accessible for a variety of students.

Rebecca Kennedy said...

I really liked this book and also see many similarities to Romeo and Juliet. I think that a lot of students would enjoy this book once they got into the pattern of the way it was written. I can also see how many students could struggle with this book and not enjoy it.
I personally think that the rhythm and rap aspect of this book was amazing. I was impressed over and over again at what a quick read it was but by how well the plot was developed and how much emotion was conveyed.
I loved the story of Junice and Damien and would like to think that they were strong enough to reach their happy ending although in reality I am not sure if this would happen. I wouldn't mind a little more information at the end but I was okay with it overall. I would be interested to see what students thought of the ending. I think some very interesting conversations could take place in class when discussing this book.

cvanslyk said...

I loved this book. The imagery was beautiful. Alot was expressed very vividly in very few words. It does have similarities to Romeo and Juliet and Westside Story but fortunately without anybody dying. I admired Junice a great deal. She was a very responsible person who wanted to take care of her little sister. She had really no support system other than Damian. For a sixteen year old girl, she was facing major issues that she had no control over. I don't know how her mother expected Junice to get her out of jail. She was just a kid. That was totally rediculous and actually Leslie deserved to be incarcerated. She certainly wouldn't be the mother of the year. Miss Ruby could hardly take care of herself let alone take care of 2 kids.I think my students would like this book. It moved along very quickly and the main characters were well developed. It was easy to get involved in the story. I would like to know more about the relative they were heading to in Memphis and what happened when they got there. I would also like to know if the romantic ending lasted. It seems like reality could come crashing down on them at any point. Junice and Damian were very likable and hopefully everything worked out well for them. Damian's parents probably wanted to kill both of them. It would be nice if they could stay together, raise Melissa and also go to college. They deserved some good luck. This was a book that was written so beautifully that it can be read over and over and enjoyed each time.

Kim Seeley said...

I LOVED STREET LOVE! I didn't think I would like it at first either. I loved how Myers combined hip hop with the poetic writing. It would be a great follow up to Romeo and Juliet. It would provide discussion and good comparisons. I also liked how the reader was given perspectives of all of the characters. The reading level would be good for my special ed students if we read this together. I am thinking of using this book with my class next year! Thanks Kathy! Great picl!

Kathy J. said...

As I read through these comments I kept shaking my head in agreement. I especially agree with the comments about how well the plot and characters were developed with such sparce words...and how much emotion was conveyed in such simple language. What a gift Walter Dean Myers has!

If anyone is interested, or particularly likes this genre (novels in verse) there are a few more titles that I've read over the past few years and have loved! It seems to be getting to be a popular format. Some of my favorites include: Out of the Dust and Witness both by Karen Hesse; God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant; Shakespeare Bats Cleanup and Brimstone Journals both by Ron Koertge.

rebeccakryger said...

Street Love was an interesting approach to a Romeo and Juliet-type story, though I'm not sure if I bought into it fully. There was some nice language; my favorite spot: "she was thinking that sometimes words danced instead of talked They bowed and touched and moved away making spaces in the air between could read the shape of the air" (64-5). The language between Damien and Junice was nice; I think the author really captured the anxious, fluttering moments of first beginning to like someone. I wasn't crazy, however, about the conversations between Damien and his friend and enemy. It seemed like the author was trying too hard to sound "cool" and it ended up sounding a bit forced.

I didn't like the ending...I don't believe that Damien would have left everything to go with Junice South. I know that he "loved" her, but what do they think they would do once they got there? It's not like they could just survive independently with the young sister. Maybe its the responsible adult in me, but I just didn't buy it.

Another point that frustrated me was that there are so many perspectives we get, but none of them really go in depth--the mother in jail, the grandmother who is slipping away, the absent fathers, Damien and the "tough" kid, Damien and his mother, Junice and her sister--I wanted to really be able to connect to one of the stories; because none of them really got into a lot of detail, I feel like I couldn't connect with the characters enough to get invested in the story.