Last Summer on State Street

Toya Wolfe. Morrow, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-320974-9

Wolfe debuts with the heartbreaking story of a young girl and her family during a summer of destruction and tragedy. It’s 1999 and the Chicago Housing Authority is tearing down the Robert Taylor Homes, where 12-year-old FeFe Stevens lives with her mother and older brother, Meechie. FeFe enjoys the summer double-dutching and running around with her friends Stacia Buchanan, part of the building’s ruling gang family, and Precious, a religious girl from FeFe’s church. After a new girl, Tonya, appears, FeFe invites her to play with them despite Stacia’s dislike of her. Wolfe’s richly realized characters endure racism, displacement, and violence, but also experience love. Short, evocative chapters build a foreboding sense of the inevitable while FeFe is forced to reckon with harsh realities around her, among them Tonya’s mother’s crack addiction, Stacia’s gang loyalty, Meechie’s struggle to resist gang life, and other ravages of life in the project. As the destruction of their building approaches, tensions and violence rise. By the traumatic end, FeFe is left lonely and scared, but her pain pushes her to escape. Wolfe’s arresting and atmospheric narrative comes fully realized. This is a gut punch. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, DeFiore & Co. (June)