Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Playground by 50 Cent [YA Fiction]

Playground
A novel by 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson III) with Laura Moser
Illustrations by Lizzi Akana
Razor Bill, an imprint of Penguin Group
ISBN 9781595144782

I spotted this novel on the 'Librarians Recommend' stand in the teen section of the Auckland Central Library and thought it might be a good novel for the boys I'm going to be seeing in my new library job at an intermediate school, and I think I was right.

Written by hip-hop superstar (that bit I knew), writer, actor and entrepreneur (those bits I didn't), 50 Cent, and based on events in his own life. It's about bullying. I think when I tell kids about it I'll read this from 50 Cent's introduction:
"I'll be the first to admit that not everything I've done in my life has been role-model material. I've been on the wrong side of the law. I've been in violent situations. I've also been a bully. I know how a person gets to be like that. That's why I wanted to tell this story: to show a kid who has become a bully -- how and why that happened, and whether or not he can move past it."

The main character is Butterball - nicknamed because he's overweight. He's black, in 8th grade, so around 13, at a not very flash school in a boring suburb where his mother moved them to when she left his father who lives in New York city. Butterball idolises his father, although he doesn't appear to be a positive role model, encouraging shoplifting and mocking his son. Still, Butterball blames his mother for his life not being great, and actively dislikes her friend Evelyn who often minds him when his mother is working, which is a lot. Early in the story he attacks the one person who was his friend because of something he thinks Maurice has done, gaining himself a reputation as a tough guy, and regular sessions with a counsellor, Liz. We come to understand a lot of Butterball's life through regular chapters centred on his sessions with Liz where he either tells her about events in his life, or refuses to tell her, but then tells the reader what happened, and so we put together a picture of his past life and how he's got himself into his current situation. 

Unfortunately there are not a lot of positive role models, the good guys are Liz and his mum and Nia, a girl from school he likes. A pity not to include a decent male in the mix, a school teacher perhaps.

There are many issues: peer pressure, new love, parental influence, moral values, homosexuality, violence, food choices... I felt I came to know Butterball and ached for his misery at the life he's found himself in, but holding on to the hope that things can be better. It takes some work and understanding and changes, but it's possible, although it seems only by removing himself completely from the environment where he's been in so much trouble.

Nice inky line drawings are scattered throughout add to the appeal, and the style of writing is believable - so yes, there's lots of swearing and slang.

Read the first 20 pages of Playground

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