Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review: Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Let Me Hear A Rhyme
 by Tiffany D. Jackson

I loved the use of mystery: small and large. Small questions are raised that kept me reading, and as well as a story about a group of kids trying to get their dead brother and friend's music heard, the story is also a murder mystery. The author drops clues, and none of them lead straight to their obvious conclusion. The answer involves many of the players in ways I never guessed. (An interesting point raised by the Educator's Guide is that my incorrect guesses are a window into my "beliefs, biases, knowledge or ignorances of Brooklyn and [its] kids").

The characters were complex: characters who seem like jerks end up being helpful; characters who seem helpful end up being jerks. On smaller scales, too, like when a serious character appreciates the joy of a dance club (according to the author's note, this was taken from her experience). This is great for any novel, but when combined with the murder mystery, it adds to the possibilities and surprises.

I read through most of this thinking the multiple POVs weren't necessary. I cared a lot about the female protagonist and didn't find myself too invested in the two male friends and didn't think they were contributing much to the plot. On reflection about those complex characters, though, the two strongest examples were known in their initial state by those two friends, and those secondary characters play a pivotal role in the conclusion. So, as I preach to my critique group, I will continue to maintain that many stories could be stronger by the writer figuring out how to supply the reader information through fewer points of view, but I'll begrudgingly admit it paid off in this case. 

The flashback POV chapters worked for me because I cared about the dead character (probably because I cared about his sister, and she cared about him) so I relished hearing from him, much like the other characters relished hearing his recordings after his death. My only complaint was that these chapters dipped into omniscient POV; I'm not as biased against this as the current publishing environment seems to be, however, it was jarring not only because it was different (the 3rd person was, too, but that wasn't a problem) but because it was about ninety-five percent in the one character's POV with occasional pop-outs. I think it would have been stronger to either stay in the limited POV or make much more use of the omniscient.

The author worked hard to make the teens' scheme believable, including by showing the characters themselves arguing about feasibility. I could buy some of the rationale for their plan but I couldn't believe they didn't come up with a better excuse/cover to start with. They did eventually try to come clean and the author did a good job coming up with a way to delay that reveal. My main concernn with believability, though, was that there were no shown consequences for what the characters did at the end.

I learned a lot about hip hop without feeling lost or preached to, and I was stoked to find a soundtrack to listen to the songs mentioned, as well as a recording of the verses written by Malik-16 for the book. There is also quite a bit of Brooklyn and Black history. I happened to be listening to the School Colors podcast simultaneously, and learning from both about Weeksville and Bed-Stuy and even Brevoort. I'd highly recommend that to others unfamiliar with the area.

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