Kendra by Coe Booth

kendraIt’s taken me a long time to read one of Coe Booth’s books.  Not because I didn’t want to – because I cannot pry them out of the hands of the teens in my library. A time or two I’ve tried to squirrel away our copy of Tyrell, but every time some teen girl will end up standing over my desk staring at the cover so longingly that I have to hand it over.  These babies do not stay on the shelves, and rightly so.  Just look at that great, high-urban-teen-appeal cover. And I was glad to find that what’s inside the cover lives up to it.

Kendra was born when her mom was only 14 years old.  While her mother Renee pursues a PhD at Princeton, Kendra is left at home with her strict grandmother.  She feels abandoned by Renee, who pretends that Kendra is her sister when they are around her college friends.  And while her Nana clearly loves her fiercely, the ways that she shows it are usually stifling.  Nana sees Kendra as a way to undo any mistakes she made with Renee.

Kendra is a heartbreakingly sweet, lonely girl.  She is so desperate for a real mother/daughter relationship with Renee, who constantly pushes her away.  Kendra’s relationship with her mother affect every part of her life, and her moods change depending on her last interaction with Renee.  When Kendra attracts the attention of Nashawn, a very attractive young man who she’s had a crush on for years, she has no one to confide in.  Her lecturing Nana is out of the question, Renee is never around when Kendra needs her, and Kendra’s best friend/aunt Adonna is also crushing on Nashawn – an added complication.  Things move fast between Kendra and Nashawn, and their relationship is secretive and messy.  With no real guidance from the important people in her life, Kendra makes some mistakes in judgment, both in her growing relationship with Nashawn and in her interactions with her family.

Booth’s character’s are complex in their motivations and actions, and in their realistic relationship with Kendra.  The family dynamic feels so true-to-life, both in the good and the bad.  I loved reading Kendra’s interactions with her completely charming young father, Kenny, who is doing his best to make an independent living and provide as much support as he can to Kendra.  The emotional connections between these characters are strong.

This is a novel that addresses a teen girl’s sexuality without pulling punches – we see both the terror and the pleasure that come out of Kendra’s first sexual relationship.  She is a smart, self-aware young woman who recognizes that she is not making good choices – she is just caught up in the moment, and caught up in getting attention from such a desirable young man.  She’s confused and elated and terrified all at the same time, and the reader is right there with her inside her head.  There is no question that older teens who are grappling with similar questions will relate to Kendra – as is evidenced by the empty spot on my YA shelves where Coe Booth’s books should be.

Coe Booth on the web.

Kendra on the web.

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