I have been playing a game with my Facebook and blog followers where I pose a theme and ask people to comment with the name of a band (I choose the songs). I take the first 10 responses and create a mix tape with my own additional 5 choices for coherence and transition. The first attempt, What Would Katniss Listen To, was successful and if you friend me on FB, I can share the Spotify playlist. We decided to try a similar idea here at Love YA Lit with a literary twist. In reflecting on National Black Music Month (June), I decided to create a top five in honor of Black music, Black authors and Black characters. This is a Mixtape Madness Mash-up, y’all!
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake
“Seems like people been teasing me all my life…. It’s bad enough that I’m the darkest, worse-dressed thing in school. I’m also the tallest, skinniest thing you ever seen.” (p. 4)
This is Maleeka Madison, a wise beyond her years middle school student battling the internalized racism of classmates, teachers and even herself. I loved how aware Maleeka was of other people’s ignorance yet found herself yearning for their acceptance. Her story is personal and unique yet completely relatable.
India.Arie – Brown Skin
Lauryn Hill – Lost Ones
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
“You never think other folks got feelings. Like Janelle. I must’ve cracked wise a hundred times about her weight. Never even thought about it. It was just something I did for a laugh. Listening to her now, it don’t seem all that funny.” (p. 50)
The story of an 8th grade English class and a teacher’s creativity, this book is an inspiring read about education, art and the overwhelming power of expression. I love books that switch narrators and Grimes takes it a step further by never appropriating a lead voice or main character in her story. The characters exist through the eyes of each other – classmates, rivals, crushes – and are self defined through the poetry they are writing.
Salt-N-Pepa – Expression
Mos Def – Hip Hop
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
“Maybe, while he was in jail, Tupac started thinking about his Big Purpose. That’s what D called it – our Big Purpose. She said everybody’s got one and it’s just that we gotta figure out what it is and then go have it. The night she said it for the first time, it was late in the summer of 1995 and we were all just hanging out – me, her, and Neeka -watching music videos on TV.” (p. 7)
Jacqueline Woodson’s novel continues to tell the story of three best friends and the omnipresent influence of Tupac Shakur on their loves and identities. Any music fan can relate to Woodson’s characters that look to music to help them understand themselves and their lives. Those of us who hold a special reverence for Tupac as an artist and a creative soul will be especially touched by the tenderness of D and the vulnerable elements that make her connect so deeply to a man and his music.
Song accompaniments (a brief homage to Pac and especially to D and her girls):
2Pac – Holler If Ya Hear Me
2Pac – Keep Ya Head Up
I love how the juxtaposition of theses two songs (the 2 most successful on the 1993 album Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z.):) Illustrates the struggle of Tupac, both as an artist and an individual, and the essence of what his fans love about him.
2Pac – Changes (originally recorded in 1992, but released 2 years after his death)
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
“The less I behaved like myself, the more I could believe that this was still a game. That my real self—Birdie Lee—was safely hidden beneath my beige flesh, and that when the right moment came, I would reveal her, preserved, frozen solid in the moment in which I had left her” (p. 233)
I was obsessed with this book when I first read it. It begins in the 1970’s in politically and racially charged Boston and tells the story of Birdie and Cole, daughters of an interracial couple who are separated when their parents flee from the law each going with the parent they look more alike. The story is told in Birdie’s voice, the daughter who has been forced by her mother to pass for a white, Jewish girl, as she comes of age and comes to terms with her own self-discovery. It is a truly fascinating story about race and identity and the things we rely on to define ourselves.
Monie Love – It’s a Shame (My Sister)
Aretha Franklin – You’re All I Need To Get By
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
“She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’s already done so. But what was one more beating? A flogging, even? I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could no longer harm Ruth, and she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her. This was a new notion to me and a curious one.” (p 246-247)
Ok, technically I have not read this book but it is a fact-based fiction of 13-year-old Isabella and her sister, Ruth, struggling for life and freedom during the American Revolutionary War. Written by the same author as Speak, I am sure it will be awesome. And, I will probably learn something. Double awesome.
Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution
En Vogue – Free Your Mind