2015 · Book Reviews · Fiction

Upper West Side Story, Susan Pashman (*)

Published: (Pre-release) Harvard Square Editions | Pages: 282 | Review Copy from bookblogging.net

I thought I had vanquished all thoughts of my son’s thirteenth year, shredded them and tossed them in my mental trash bin. But then, in a too-thorough spate of house-keeping, I found the journal he’d kept for that year. I lowered myself into a chair, rested the dusty, green-covered book in my lap, and opened it. I hurried past the entries from the year’s early months, searching for the pages he’d written in the autumn.

Thursday, October 7, 8:45 pm. Tomorrow we leave early for our great patriotic adventure.” I read, hearing the words in my son’s high, tender voice. His young man account continued, and so did I, until every tiny detail came floating back.

I was sent this copy through Book Blogging, which is a little community full of book bloggers – easy and free to join, and you can request review copies of lots of different genres of books. They are available as e-books, as well as print books. (I still live somewhat in the past and love the excitement of having a proper book in my hand!)

So, I can’t lie – I wasn’t completely won over by this book at first. As soon as I saw the cover I thought, “here we go again” – reminding me of my school days when I had to read ‘Noughts and Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman. Now I’m not saying I didn’t like Blackman’s novel, I just didn’t appreciate being made to “speed-read” it in class!

So the book focuses on the death of Cyrus – supposedly caused by his best friend Max. (Cyrus is black, Max is white). Their friendship is strong, this is known amongst school friends and their mothers. Basically, Max is used as a political weapon in City Hall (where his father works) to try to aid three black teenagers who have committed manslaughter, if not murder. So immediately, Pashman uses race and politics has her main driving forces throughout the novel.

By pitting these two strong, powerful themes against one another, she manages to show the corrupt, dark underbelly of politics bubbling away in New York City, as well as the vulnerability of race. What I mean by this, is the subject of race and racism has always been difficult, and its use in novels tricky. Pashman sets aside the trickiness of racism by hitting it head on, and explicitly referring to it in her characters’ narratives and opens up an different dynamic; how racism as a subject is vulnerable to corruption, and it being used out of context and as a way of actually creating racial tensions.

Other than race, Pashman examines the justice system of the U.S. She asks the question, ‘should children be tried as adults if an adult crime has been committed?’ So while Max, a young child is having to deal with grief, an unprecedented feeling of guilt (at one point he almost believes he subconsciously meant to push Cyrus), his parents are fighting their own personal battles – distance within their marriage, work issues, as well as Max’s borstal stay and trying to prove his innocence.

A lot is packed into this book. The reader becomes witness to the harshness of life for Max in borstal where he is attacked by another offender and the difficulty his younger sister has of coming to terms with the current events. But most importantly, Pashman conveys to the reader how easily things can be presented in a different light which in turn creates racial tensions within a community which had begun to live side by side with one another with great ease.

Throughout the book, Pashman’s characters are all employed in a brilliant fashion, each one of them are necessary to the story and adding another layer to the opinions and feelings of the reader. Ultimately, you end up questioning the moral compass of the human race. Is it right that an adult in politics decided to create racial tensions to help 3 guilty teenagers escape sentences deserved of their crimes? Is it right that it took a child going into prison, and another dying for a marriage to become ‘whole’ again?

An interesting, thought-provoking book. Not my favourite read, but I did get into it eventually! Definitely worth a try!

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