Jacqueline Woodson

After Tupac and D. Foster

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After Tupac and D. Foster Summary

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After Tupac and D. Foster by Jacqueline Woodson follows an anonymous, tween narrator and her circle of friends over two years. The three girls identify with the lyrics of musician Tupac Shakur, who raps about racism, poverty, and abandonment, and the girls’ coming-of-age story parallels Tupac’s rise and fall. Penguin Group published the novel in 2008.

The anonymous narrator lives in a Queens neighborhood in 1994. She and her friend, Neeka, are 11-year-old black girls who are growing up on the same block and have been friends since birth.

The story opens with the narrator eating pizza with her friends Neeka and D. They’re watching a Tupac video, and the narrator suggests that they have a sleepover. D says that her foster mom asked her to come home, so the girls walk her to the bus stop. There, they discuss Tupac’s lyrics and D says that she believes Tupac’s message is that “Everyone’s got a purpose and it’s just that they gotta figure out what it is and then go have it.” The girls often compare Tupac’s lyrics to their worldview and the social constructs that face them.

The narrator flashes back to when D. Foster moved onto her block. At first, Neeka and the narrator thought that she dressed oddly and that she appeared to be of mixed ethnicity. D bragged about being able to explore the city without supervision, and the girls admitted that their parents made them stay on their safe neighborhood block. Neeka said of D: “She’s like from another planet. The Planet of the Free.”

Despite their initial hesitancy, the girls invite D to meet them again and to bring a rope for double Dutch. D agrees, and the three quickly bond over their shared love of Tupac Shakur. They begin calling their group “Three the Hard Way.”

The narrator’s mother is curious about D and asks about her father, to which the narrator replies that D doesn’t know her mother. The narrator concludes that the mystery of D’s parents doesn’t mean much since she herself doesn’t know her father well.

Neeka’s family consists of her mother, Miss Irene, and her brothers Tash and Jayjones. Tash is a gay man and is in jail, having been falsely accused of committing a hate crime. Jayjones wants to become a pro basketball player but works at KFC. He is stopped by a policeman one day for merely being black and for running in the neighborhood.

D’s mother, a white alcoholic, abandoned her to foster care. After moving from foster homes to orphanages, she finally found a home with her caretaker, Flo. Tupac’s song “Brenda’s Got a Baby” particularly resonates with D as it describes a woman who hides her newborn in a trash can.

Meanwhile, Tupac Shakur is accused of sexually assaulting a woman. The girls and their community rally around Tupac, citing racism and his lyrics about gangster life as the cause of his legal battles rather than any actual wrongdoing.

When the girls and their neighborhood learn that Tupac has been shot, they are all horrified. They follow his progress on the radio and are stunned to learn that he is jailed soon after he has healed from his wounds. Just after Tupac’s release from prison, D takes the other girls around the city, showing them a city park with an amphitheater. The narrator steps onto the stage and decides this must be where she belongs.

When D’s mother decides that she wants to retrieve D and care for her again, D explains to her friends that she loves her mother despite their past. She compares her relationship to that of Tupac and his mother.

In 1996, the girls learn that an unknown shooter has shot Tupac. He dies after spending several days in the hospital.

As the novel closes, D has already gone to live with her mother. Neeka and the narrator aren’t able to get in touch with her.

The novel received several awards, including the 2009 Newbery Medal, the American Library Association award, and the Josette Frank Award.

The story covers many prominent social issues, including institutional racism, abandoned children, the difficulties of single mothers, and homophobia. These topics are covered in several of Woodson’s pieces, and Veronica Chambers said of Woodson’s writing that it’s unique from the “mega books” that are popular in children’s fiction. She continues: “…in terms of literary fiction that is also accessible and offers thoughtful writing for children; there isn’t a huge group of people doing this, especially in terms of sharing the same gender and skin color.”

Jacqueline Woodson has several other Newbery Honor-winning titles, including Feathers, Brown Girl Dreaming, and Show Way. She was the Young People’s Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017, and was then named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2018-2019.