MORE LIKE WRESTLING

Danyel Smith, Author . Crown $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4644-7

Two sisters grow up on their own in Oakland in the 1980s in this rich, idiosyncratic, impressionistic first novel. Smart, stubborn Paige and her silent little sister, Pinch, enjoy an idyllic if lopsided childhood as children of a single mother, with visits to the library, ballet lessons and Black Panther day care. But when Paige is 14 and Pinch is 12, their mother's boyfriend attacks Paige in public, and Paige persuades their mother to rent the girls their own apartment. Making house for each other, they begin to attract a circle of friends: Maynard, Donnell and LaNell, Teeara, Oscar. Through high school it is all (or mostly) innocent, just microwave dinners together and trips to Mexicali Rose for burritos. Then the boys begin to have more money—too much money. Paige's best friend, Maynard, marries an uptown girl named Jess and has a baby; Paige drops out of college and starts dating Oscar. Oscar and Maynard begin dealing drugs; then Jess is shot and killed, and Paige thinks she knows who's responsible. Fiercely independent and sharp as she has always seemed, she begins to lose her bearings and lean on Pinch, who is still quiet but surprisingly resilient. There is no stereotyping here—Smith's characters are decent human beings living in a world where selling crack can seem like a regular job, but where redemption is always possible. The novel's underlying optimism may strike readers as unrealistic at times, but the lovingly detailed evocation of Oakland ("southern negro mores and shiny liberal whiteness and slow-motion port and fifty-cent tacos") and Smith's lyrical if sometimes rocky prose make this a substantial and strikingly original debut. (Jan. 14)

Forecast:A four-city author tour and a striking jacket image of two girls in pink under a coil of razor wire should help this promising first novel grab readers' attention.

Reviewed on: 11/11/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-609-80993-8
Open Ebook - 258 pages - 978-0-307-42129-6
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