- He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander
Omar T-Diddy Smalls is a hip-hop-spouting, football-playing superstar who scores as often off the field as on; Claudia Clarke is a done-with-romance, Harvard-bound but still dishy activist and future journalist. When his eyes land on her tight jeans, his friends bet him $150 that he won’t be able to sweet talk her out of them, and the game is on. Fortunately, T-Diddy lives with an uncle who has his own history of activism, so he is able to meet Claudia on her own ground, and he parlays his power as a leader on the field into the role of accidental community organizer, rallying the students of his high school into a successful protest of the budget cuts that threaten the school’s arts funding. This is pure and enjoyable urban rom-com: of course the protest is successful; of course Claudia falls for T-Diddy; of course T-Diddy gives up his playa ways (mostly) for Claudia; of course Claudia and TDiddy both get their full scholarships; of course there is a girl fight; and of course a heated football rally means someone gets shot but not seriously hurt. While nothing unexpected happens and social and economic problems are treated with a thoroughly romanticized glaze, style carries the day here: Alexander’s hip-hop narration, peppered with FB exchanges, emails, and text messages, is positively lyrical and, though the sexual content is clear and explicit, the language is cleaned up the way rap lyrics get cleaned up for radio play. Readers looking for an uplifting take on subjects usually treated far more heavily will appreciate the jokes as much as the silly-sweet romance; teachers looking for urban lit that demonstrates all of the formal characteristics of African-American literature in a story contemporary students will really relate to and enjoy will find that here as well.