Saturday, April 7, 2012

Street dreams by Tama Wise

Tyson Rua is young, Maori, and shoulders the responsibility of being one of the two "bread" winners for his family.  He works as a dishwasher to pay his own way, and to help his mum support his two younger brothers, and he tries to be there when his bestfriend and next door neighbour Rawiri gets beaten on my his old man - again.  More recently, Tyson has also come to think that he might be different, that he might be gay.  It is a scary thought, and trying to deal with this revelation is a stress he doesn't need - especially when his first real crush seems too perfect.  One of the things that keeps Tyson's world together is his love of local hip hop, and the black books where he sketches the graffiti art he sees from the train and the sketches that come from his imagination. 

When he connects with his crush and gets introduced to a hot new South Auckland hip hop crew it seems as though he can merge his two worlds together - until he realises that one of the crew is a seriously homophobic hot head that is not afraid to use his size and mouth to intimidate and bully others, dragging them down with his harsh attitude and judgemental attitude.  As he explores his sexuality and how he could fit into the gay community, a tragedy at home brings everything crashing down around him. 

Before I go any further with this review I have to confess that I know the author and worked with them for several years before they went off to do other things - BUT that does not change the review for this book, or colour my judgement in any way (other than the fact that I am so happy that they succeeded in being published!).  On a more serious note, this was an amazing first novel, especially for a New Zealand book dealing with such sensitive topics - being a young gay, living with a bestfriend who is regularly beaten by his father, being from a home where a young man feels compelled to contribute to the household, a young man coming into his own, and first love that is not reciprocated. 

Too many of the novels that deal with sexuality are only about the sexuality, isolating that part of the main character like it is the only part of them that exists.  Street dreams keeps Tyson whole, he struggles with his sexuality, but it is only part of what he goes through during the course of the novel.  His bestfriend Rawiri is both his support and his weakness, a broken thing that he can't fix.  His relationship with his mother has echoes of the relationship that so many teens have with their single parents - where the teen feels a need to contribute to their family, while the parent feels the guilt of having to accept help from their children. 

There is a distinct New Zealand flavour to this novel, not surprising as it is set in the largest city - Auckland.  I have walked some of the same places as Tyson and seen some of the same culture in South Auckland where everyone seems to gain the inspiration for their clothes and speech from watching too many American hop hop videos.  The language is genuine, and while there is some profanity it is used in a realistic context and echoes the conversations we hear everyday around us where young people congregate, and where the hip hop culture is strongest.  There is also a Maori flavour to the novel, which adds to the New Zealand appeal.

If you like this book then try:
  • Who I am by M.L. Rice
  • 365 days by K.E. Payne
  • Geography club by Brent Hartinger
  • The order of the poison oak by Brent Hartinger
  • Boy meets boy by David Levithan
  • Hero by Perry Moore
  • A secret edge by Robin Reardon
  • Hidden by Tomas Mournian

Reviewed by Brilla

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