April 7, 2016


"I know I can be better than my environment." ~ pg. 222

Books like Upstate are the reason I started the First Lines Friday meme. The first impression of a novel is the first line. And so begins Upstate with a shocking question. This story with a message for young adults—and grown ass people TBH—is told through letters between 17-year-old Antonio and his 16-year-old girlfriend Natasha. The setting is 1990s in Harlem, New York.

Their young love is put to the test when Antonio gets sent to upstate prison for a startling crime. He fights to stay alive on the inside while Natasha makes moves on the outside. Their actions are told through correspondence over the course of a decade. Much like real life, Antonio and Natasha's lives take unexpected turns leaving them wondering if, when and how they will ever be together again.

Upstate is one of the most heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, lump-in-throat novels I have ever read. Sapphire, the author of Push, says Upstate is "told using the epistolary form with brilliant skill not seen since The Color Purple." Author Mary Monroe was "thoroughly impressed." The beloved deceased author E. Lynn Harris called Upstate "a literary gem." What more can I possibly say?

I love raw coming-of-age stories with a message. Done right, they are unforgettably profound. Upstate is my first book read by author Kalisha Buckhanon. Her writing has a purpose for readers of the new generation. In her debut novel, she masters the art of making readers feel every emotion a character feels: love, happiness, anger, desperation and hope. I was questioning whether Upstate was really fiction by the end. It was told THAT well.

Title: Upstate
Author: Kalisha Buckhanon
Published: January 2005
Pages: 247
Edition: Hardcover
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♡


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