Tough Boy Sonatas (review)
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Reviewed by
Crisler, Curtis L. Tough Boy Sonatas; illus. by Floyd Cooper. Wordsong/Boyds Mills, 200786p ISBN 1-932425-77-2$19.95 R Gr. 10 up

Thirty-seven poems in three sections, "Gary," "Son of a City," and "Tough Boy Sonatas," tell of growing up in Gary, Indiana. The Gary in these poems is an all-black city of poverty and crime, where the outside white world slides in through the television, where "men here are/ rare commodities," where groups of kids run in packs and play with the same intensity some will later bring to violence. There's an adult edge (about twenty of the entries were previously published as adult works) and retrospection to these poems (they're set roughly in the 1970s, when the idolized Foxx of "foxx and pryor and murphy" is likely Redd, not Jamie) that makes them more suitable to experienced young readers of poetry, but those willing to rise to the challenge will find a compelling poetic picture. While Crisler's style varies, many of his poems favor pulsing internal rhymes and polysyllabic echoes, repetitions and near-repetitions, playing with homophonic syllables; the result are sonorous poems often begging for oral performance, which may also make them more accessible to teens intimidated by verse on the page. Poems treating darker subjects such as a heroin-using grandmother ("Grandma") or methods of survival in the projects ("Back Tracks") are leavened by warmer paeans to childhood joys such as Mom's hamburgers ("Burgers, Homegrown") and the passion for candy ("Addiction"). Cooper's moody illustrations blend grainy pastel textures with pale washes, with browns and blacks sometimes the sole pigments and other colors introduced only as accents; the portraiture is eloquent and at times haunting, the landscapes poignant. Marilyn Nelson is mentioned in the acknowledgments, and while this is more challenging reading than her stunning Carver (BCCB 9/01), her fans will be first in line to explore Crisler's poetic landscapes.

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