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Likely Stories - Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe

I recently read 'Last Summer on State Street', the debut novel of Toya Wolfe. I had my eye on it for a while and I'm so glad I finally picked it up.

It's not a memoir but it is rooted in her experiences growing up in the Robert Taylor homes on the Southside of Chicago. We experience the story from the viewpoint of Felicia Stevens as she looks back on the last summer she lived in the Robert Taylor homes.

It is 1999 and 'FeFe' as she was called then is about to turn thirteen. Her building is one of the last standing, the complex is being systematically torn down t make way for new development. The atmosphere is definitely before; before the turn of the millennium, before nine eleven, before the financial crisis, before Covid. Before.

But it is not nostalgic. It may be set before so many things that upended the world, but for FeFe and her friends the world wasn't kind in the first place and a secure future never seemed guaranteed.

FeFe lives with her mother and her brother who try to shelter her from the reality of life in the projects. She's got a teacher who believes in her and challenges her to pursue her dreams. She's got a tight group of friends who like double Dutch, I could practically hear the rhythmic strike of the rope and the sing-song chanting of Felicia, Precious, and Stacia. And she invites a fourth, Tonya, to join. There lives circle and intertwine and the mess grown ups make of the world inevitably intrudes.

It's an incredibly powerful novel about family, friendship, and growing up. It's not exactly an uplifting read, I had to briefly put the book down from time to time to grieve the characters experiences, but it is, ultimately, hopeful.

Reading FeFe's story helps me understand that I can't possibly know what it's like to have lived her life, even while I can empathize with her hurt, confusion, and love.

In some ways the book reminded me of another that I both loved and had to put down frequently, 'The Coldest Winter Ever' by Sister Souljah, published in 1999 as it happens. But I think it ultimately has more in common with "The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas. If you loved either of those put this one at the top of your list.

Last Summer on State Street by Tony Wolfe.

And in honor of Jim McKeown, let me say...five stars.

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