Two New York teenagers, Antonio and Natasha, are in love. Antonio is arrested for murdering his abusive father. Separated by Antonio's imprisonment, their physical contact is curtailed. This book tells the story of their love and relationship, through a series of letters over a span of ten years.
The language in the early letters is very raw but the use of graphic language is not gratuitous but necessary to show the characters' development. This changes over time as both Antonio and Natasha mature. The contrast in their lives is poignant; Natasha moves ahead with her dreams of studying abroad and becoming a lawyer. Antonio takes correspondence classes but must face the reality that even after he serves his sentence, his career choices will always be limited.
The book is about making choices when moralities conflict and dealing with the consequences. I would recommend this book to mature high school students. This book was nominated for YALSA's Alex Award (adult books that appeal to teenagers) for 2006.
Reviewer's Note: I had qualms about approving Upstate because of the language, but I think that the book has a lot of value and I wanted to be able to offer it to my students. First, the letter writing format should have a lot of appeal to reluctant readers. The language is very rough, but it's realistic for a large segment of a high school's population. Second, some of my students have friends or family in prison. Some of my former students are now in prison. I think it's good to have a book that addresses life in prison and contrasts the type of future that a person who has been incarcerated can have with that of a person who hasn't.
Recommended by Jan Davies, Retired Media Specialist, Virginia, USA
Even more recent is Kalisha Buckhanon’s Upstate, which is told entirely as letters written between two young lovers. We learn why Antonio has gone to prison for a murder he really didn’t commit and we see Natasha outgrow her love for him. Think about the skill it takes to limit yourself to composing an entire novel in such a format.
Recommended by Edith Campbell, Librarian, Indiana, USA
Visit her blog at: http://campbele.wordpress.com