Growing up in a mainly middle-class, white, suburban area of the Midwest, I don't know what it's like to be an African-American teen-ager walking the streets of Queens or Flushing, N.Y. I honestly have no clue what it might be like to live with your mother and grandmother in a run-down apartment complex, to get beat up after school by a bully who wants you to write love letters for him so he can impress girls or even to have the feeling that you want to escape from where you are so desperately that you lose a best friend over it. Even if I had read \Oliver Twist,"" I wouldn't know what it feels like to try to scrape together just enough money for groceries. Sometimes, however, I find a piece of literature that really speaks to me, a book that brings to life the things I don't know about in the world and impacts me in such a way that I feel I have a slightly better grasp of things than before.
Victor D. Lavalle's ""slapboxing with jesus"" was just such a reading experience. Lavalle provides a sketch of life in the inner city in such a clean, natural way that one can't help but recognize the autobiographical undertones in his characters' dialogue. The collection of individual short stories, all with different teen-age boys as the protagonist, play off each other and flow in such a way as to paint a blunt, representative picture of life in the city as Lavalle sees it: sketchy, rude, unresolved at times, but also containing moments of beauty--though brief--which are universal to all peoples and societies, no matter what their race, ethnicity or background.
Reading the book evoked feelings of uneasiness and left me slightly disturbed by some of the situational content. The stories, however, work in a remarkable ""wake-up call"" kind of way as a whole, leaving a reader with some feeling of completeness in an otherwise fragmented collection. Once the words and message of Lavalle have time to settle in a reader's thoughts, they will find themselves appreciating more what Lavalle has attempted to accomplish in this poignant, original debut.