Sunrise over Fallujah ) and Steptoe’s (In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall ) concept, recasting

Amiri and Odette: A Love Story

Walter Dean Myers, Author, Javaka Steptoe, Illustrator , illus. by Javaka Steptoe. Scholastic $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-590-68041-7

Myers’s (Sunrise over Fallujah ) and Steptoe’s (In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall ) concept, recasting Swan Lake as hip-hop, may sound unlikely, but in their hands it largely succeeds: the ultra-cool, emotionally hot setting gives the story new power. Swan Lake is a housing project, Rothbart represented as Big Red, a drug lord, and Odette an addict; Amiri tries to save her, but fails. Myers’s words carry the force of blows; Steptoe’s collages teem with bodies colliding and overlapping. The language swings from pop lyric to Shakespearean, sometimes in the same breath: “Amiri, be my man!/ Save me if you can!/ If not, let my last pure breath/ Pledge my love to you in wretched death.” Steptoe gets gritty, working directly on slabs of asphalt, a street effect intensified by the graffiti-like use of multicolored and multisize fonts in the text. His figures are shadowed with ghostly blue; they leap, ward off blows, embrace, argue. It’s easy to imagine them as dancers. The momentum yields at the end, where, in contrast to the stark immediacy of the rest of the work, abstract language softens the tragic conclusion. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/17/2008
Release date: 01/01/2009
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