Erick S. Gray can be considered one of the foremost pioneering authors in the street lit game. He is one of the earliest male authors to bring forth quality, interesting work. An author of approximately 8 novels and 13 collaborations (including the awesome series, The Streets of New York, with Shannon Holmes and Anthony Whyte), Erick S. Gray is a solid contributor to contemporary street literature.
Lyfe Benjamin is a young adult (about 20 years old) African American male living with his mom and his sister in Jamaica, Queens, New York, with a baby on the way. Unemployed and a high school drop out, Lyfe, is a restless soul, with little direction for his life. His older brothers are incarcerated or dead from street violence; his older sister is the wifey of the biggest and most dangerous drug lord in the area. He doesn't know who his father is. Lyfe's 2-bit street hustle with his childhood friends keeps digging him deeper and deeper into the scary abyss of the streets - his guardian angel is a crackhead older man, named Jimmy, who always has Lyfe's back.
A silver lining appears for Lyfe, in the form of a new girlfriend, Ayana, who is a college student from Kenya. Ayana inspires Lyfe to study for his GED, which prompts him to take a trip to the public library. (Yes - you read that right - Erick S. Gray sends Lyfe to the library to talk to a librarian. Gray devotes two pages to detail the reference interaction and Lyfe's experience as a patron. Yes - in a street lit novel.) Lyfe's road to redemption takes a U-turn when Ayana is called back to Nairobi, Kenya, due to the unexpected death of her father. This abandonment sends Lyfe back to what he knows best - the hood.
Upon his return back to Queens, action gets intense as Lyfe finds himself in the middle of various misunderstandings that turn violent. His sister gets caught in the cross-fire, and this sends Lyfe reeling. Lyfe further suffers betrayal after betrayal from his closest friends, which are heavy costs for the price of a drug war.
Does Lyfe make it through all the violence and turmoil? How does his actions impact his pending fatherhood? What does it mean to being living a life, for Lyfe? Lyfe lives fast and hard, and ultimately pays all prices charged to the game.
Gray's storytelling is superb in this novel. He depicts Lyfe's struggles and confusion with an authenticity in language and character development that is awesome. I found myself totally immersed in Lyfe's world and in his heart - gaining an understanding for who he was and why he made the choices he did. Gray makes it plain that one's circumstances greatly determines the life one lives. In the character of Lyfe, we have empathy for the hard ladder he has to climb in order to get up and out of an impoverished life. We are rooting for Lyfe as he slips and falls along the way.
Highly recommended for public library collections. Suitable for mature A/YA readers. A must have addition to any reputable street lit collection.
Erick S. Gray's next novel is a collaborative effort with esteemed street lit author, Anthony White. Entitled "America's Soul" is due for release October 25, 2011. "America's Soul" is the final installment to "Crave All Lose All" (2008) and "Love and a Gangsta" (2009).
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