I was at a conference once when Jeff Zenter perfectly summarized Tiffany Jackson’s body of work. I’m going to have to paraphrase, because it was more than a year ago that he said it, but it is important. It is important because no one (I would bet the few things precious in my life on the following statement) NO ONE in publishing, not just Young Adult but all of publishing, is doing what Tiffany Jackson is doing.
Thank you Katherine Tegen Publishing and Edelweiss for an ARC in Exchange for an Honest Review
Basically what Jeff Zenter said is that Jackson has the ability to take the vegetables (in this case vegetables being social issues) we have to eat and wrapping them up in a story that makes the reader feel like they are eating ice cream (in this case the ice cream being a wickedly entertaining story). He couldn’t be more on point.
Recently I had a lengthy conversation with someone I consider to be one of the most intelligent men I have ever met breaking down at least a half-dozen social issues including but not limited to the juvenile incarceration system, the profiting prison pipeline, mismanaged group homes, post incarceration leading to the broken cyclical system of the entire process, and who is responsible for how broken these children become.
This leading to the further actions and consequences of a system based on keeping marginalized people down rather than providing redemption and second chances- all due to Jackson’s first book Allegedly.
Now he hasn’t read Jackson’s second novel, Monday’s Not Coming, yet. But when he does, I have no doubt that we will do the same. This time the discussion will surround the continuing blind eye DC turns to missing African American girls, PTSD and the broken Child and Protective Service Agencies in schools, DC and cities across the nation because those are the social issues that inspired Jackson’s second novel.
In an article published in April 2019 by the Washington Informer the following stat was given:
More than 424,066 girls of all races have gone missing since the beginning of 2018, according to NCMEC. More than half of that total are women and girls of color, according to BAM, which, like NCMEC, rely on statistics from the FBI.
You would think someone would have developed a task force or do something. But no. That number has just continued to grow. In an article from Bustle (I highly suggest you read the entire article.. Jackson stated:
I incorporated the way kids slip through the cracks in the system, the way there is no immediate sense of urgency when black teen girls go missing, and lifted parts of their tragic end. I also focused on the media bias when it comes to reporting about missing white children vs. missing children of color. Coincidentally, when I turned in the book to my editor, the hashtag #missinggirlsDC had just gone viral.
You may be wondering by now why I’m discussing Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming in such detail before my review of Let Me Hear a Rhyme, but I believe it is essential to do so for multiple reasons.
First, both Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming came out before my blog started. So, this is the first Tiffany Jackson book I have had to review. It is everything and more.
Second, it has become woefully aware to me during my time blogging how few people are aware of Tiffany Jackson’s work and that breaks my heart.
I couldn’t do justice to Let Me Hear a Rhyme without at least introducing those that are not yet aware of what makes her work unique; the epitome of reaching those that otherwise have not the exposure, or do have the ability to ignore injustice with a riveting plot that seizes you from the first page, and doesn’t let go until the final gut punch that leaves you breathless and renders you forever changed.
Last, it is impossible to review any book by Tiffany Jackson without giving away the entire book. The less you know going in, the more you’ll enjoy it.
What I can do, is what I did above. I can talk about the vegetables. I can even tell you about <some of> the ice cream. I tried not to do that with the first two novels for fear of this post becoming a novel unto itself. However, that is about as far as I can go. And that isn’t nearly enough.
So here is what I can tell you about Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Everything mentioned above? Checkmate.
Steph is a budding musician with so much to give to the world when a senseless shooting ends his young life. No one is talking about it, no one seems to care. Least of all the cops but his closest friends, and sister want answers. Aiming to find out what happened and let his music see the light of day, they find his unfinished songs and give them their time in the sun. Starting in clubs, everything is going great until a label hears it and wants to sign Steph.
Except, of course, Steph is dead. Why let death stop you? Plan is hatched and they go along with dead Steph signing a record deal with said record company oblivious to their dead star. Then the secret of Steph’s death, circumstances around it and his life, along with the trio’s own secrets start to unravel. Everything spirals out of control and soon the three realize trying to outrun death is one thing. Outrunning the secrets left in the wake of death, secrets still held by the living, is impossible.
Before continuing, I need to qualify the following because while I was born and raised in Brooklyn, before moving to the Midwest at 32, I am Brooklyn-Italian, white- Caucasian.
That doesn’t give me any right to say I understand or have even learned to understand what it was like then or now to be a person of color in any part of this country, Brooklyn included.
Look Brooklyn was no picnic for anyone when I was growing up. But that gives me no right or space to claim any voice in this discussion. What I can do? Is shut up, read, learn and have a sense of moral compassion, empathy, and foremost lack of judgement.
Anyone who judges Jazz for relating to Malcolm X’s beliefs, or why a character falls into dealing drugs? SHUT UP. You want to judge Jackson for writing those characters and their choices? SHUT UP. You had privilege. You had choice. You don’t know. You weren’t there.
I’m not saying I was there, either. But that’s just the point. I don’t know and so it isn’t my place to say anything. It is only my place to shut up, listen and learn what I didn’t know about any of it and shamefully understand how little I knew then and how little has changed in almost forty years.
Police brutality, talented lives cut off too soon, young lives left behind and now traumatized forever, poverty, and desperate “choices” are all dealt with throughout the storyline in Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Testing the strength of friendship, love, and the ability to find where you stand, along with the willingness to fight for it, at all costs are at its core.
How about the ice cream you ask? How can you take all that heavy… the vegetables and make it digestible and accessible… the ice cream? Well. Let me tell you.
First there is interwoven music and pop culture of the nineties that are utilized brilliantly. I won’t pretend to know all of it, but I knew some of it and it brought back a lot of memories.
Hell, the way Jackson brought Brooklyn to life as a character in ways that you would only understand if you lived there? It made me smile and rarely, if at all, do I miss my hometown.
See people assume that if you are from NYC, you’ve seen the world. They don’t get it. If you live in Brooklyn? Queens might as well be France. You are lucky if you leave your five-block radius in a year, let alone any given day. Jackson gets it.
But wait for it… See. Remember that movie… maybe you don’t. But there was a movie once. It was called Weekend at Bernie’s. These two guys trying to get ahead in a company find out someone is embezzling large sums of money at this company they work for. Thinking they are going to be handsomely rewarded; they tell the CEO. What they don’t know, is that he’s the one embezzling and he’s doing it for some very dangerous people.
Dangerous people who have decided he’s gotten a bit sloppy. So, when Bernie (CEO) invites the kids over to his house in the Hamptons, he thinks it is so his dangerous crew can kill them. Except, SURPRISE! They kill Bernie to pin it on the kids. Double surprise! The kids freak out and run around the Hamptons with a dead Bernie all weekend.
Now I’m not saying Jackson got the idea for parts of Let’s Hear a Rhyme from Weekend at Bernie’s but… I think I remember a tweet where she mentioned it but don’t quote me on it… Either way, I certainly had flashbacks to it that were highly entertaining.
This is a bit of a contrast to the “ice cream” parts of Monday’s Not Coming and Allegedly, which offered the entertaining storyline up in a much more dark and twisted fashion that doubled down on Shonda Rhimes territory.
However, make no mistake, this was incredibly twisty and irresistibly fun. Until it couldn’t be anymore. But as I stated before, there is just no way to say anymore. It would take the fun out of the ice cream and leave little room for critiquing the vegetables. And that is what Tiffany Jackson does. And she’s the only one doing it.
It is a better publishing world, a better world period, for having her put the gift of her talent into it.
If you don’t know her talent. If you don’t know the causes upon which she stands? You are doing life wrong.