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Let Me Hear a Rhyme

384p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. May 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062840325. POP
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GGr 8 Up–After Steph is fatally shot, his sister, Jasmine, and friends Quadir and Jarrell refuse to let his dreams of becoming a rapper die with him. Posing as Steph's management, they sell his CDs on the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant and try to score him a record deal—all without letting anyone know that their client is dead. Like fellow Brooklyn native Biggie Smalls, whose recent death has also cast a pall over the neighborhood, Steph hypnotizes listeners with his smooth flow and potent rhymes. But the truth threatens to catch up with the teens, especially as they get closer to discovering who killed their friend. Jackson vividly brings to life pre-gentrified 1990s Bed-Stuy. Grim realities such as the threat of violence and racial profiling by police pervade the novel, but so does Jackson's abiding love for Brooklyn (or, in Biggie's words, "Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way"). The book alternates among the first-person perspectives of the three protagonists and includes flashbacks to life before Steph's death—an ambitious move that at times slows the pace and keeps the characters slightly underdeveloped. Still, readers will be invested in seeing the trio succeed both in making Steph a star and in realizing their own goals.
VERDICT For fans of Jackson and realistic fiction, and a must for hip-hop heads, especially those who devoured Angie Thomas's On the Come Up.

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