In her third young adult novel, Let Me Hear a Rhyme, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award-winner Tiffany Jackson ushers readers through a comprehensive catalogue of late '90s hip hop in Brooklyn, N.Y., through the story of three teenagers hustling to set off their friend's dream.
When their best friend, Steph, is "murked" (murdered) in late August 1998, Quadir and Jarrell work with his sister, Jasmine, to find a way to share his immense musical talent with the world. Told through multiple points of view, the story winds through events leading to Steph's death and the time immediately thereafter. With a delicate, precise balancing of timelines, signposted with dates at the beginnings of chapters and meticulously recorded via the mention of songs and albums, Jackson perfectly juxtaposes the loss of Biggie and Tupac to gun violence with the incredible lost potential of Steph. The aching for someone who is gone but still ever present and the need to share a legacy is captured beautifully in Jackson's engineering of Steph's relationships with Quadir, Jarrell and Jasmine.
Every character battles their personal guilt, getting to the heart of their grief, to puzzle out what happened the night Steph was killed. "Pain," Quadir says, "can either make you or break you." Each teen must face their pain to bring Steph's voice from six feet under, to be there for the voice that always stepped up for anyone who requested, "Yeah, come on son! Let me hear a rhyme or something." This novel is the perfect mixtape, the tracks (chapters) blending tender slow jams (young love) with dangerous interludes (from shootings to people getting jumped) and seamless transitions, building to heart-pounding page turns. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer