Wendy Anderson and Hakiam Powell are at opposite ends of the spectrum—the social spectrum, the financial spectrum, the opportunity spectrum, you name it. Wendy lives in an all-white suburb of Philadelphia, where she’s always felt like the only chip in the cookie. Her dad, who fought his way out of the ghetto, doesn’t want her mingling with “those people.” In fact, all Wendy’s life, her father has told her how terrible “those people” are. He even objects to Wendy’s plan to attend a historically black college. But Wendy feels that her race is more than just the color of her skin, and she takes a job tutoring at an inner-city community center to get a more diverse perspective on life.
Hakiam has never lived in one place for more than a couple of years. When he aged out of foster care in Ohio, he hopped a bus to Philly to start over, but now he’s broke, stuck taking care of his cousin’s premature baby for no pay, and finding it harder than ever to stay out of trouble. When he meets Wendy at the tutoring center, he thinks she’s an uppity snob—she can’t possibly understand his life. But as he gets to know her better, he sees a softer side. And eventually—much to the chagrin of Wendy’s father and Hakiam’s cousin—they begin a rocky, but ultimately enlightening, romance.
This edgy story about a star-crossed couple features strong African American characters and sparkles with smart, quirky dialogue and fresh observations on social pressures and black-on-black prejudice.
Whittenberg's preachy fourth novel is a classic wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance between two African-American teenagers, Wendy Anderson and Hakiam Powell, who have had very different upbringings. The narrative alternates between their day-to-day struggles: Wendy lives in an affluent, primarily white suburb of Philadelphia, while Hakiam has been through foster care and then juvie for shoplifting in Cincinnati ("For him, anywhere he went in America would be the third world"). When Hakiam moves to Philly and decides to get his GED, he meets Wendy, who is working as a tutor; they initially butt heads, but soon become a couple, learning about each other's worlds. Whittenberg (Hollywood and Maine) attempts to get at important issues regarding prejudice within the black community, largely through the straitlaced character of Wendy's father, but his arrogant and dismissive attitudes are unconvincing and approach caricature ("Now that's what I call singing," he says, grooving to a corny mall musician. "No filthy lyrics like those ignorant rappers that get played on the radio"). With underdeveloped characters and a too-tidy ending, the story can't escape the feel of an after-school special. Ages 14 up. (Dec.)