Upstate, by Kalisha Buckhanon

“Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?”

The first line of Antonio’s letter to Natasha is written from a jail cell. He’s been accused of murdering his abusive father. Her letter in reply is full of uncertainty, but also overflowing with support and love.

We eavesdrop on the trial from Antonio’s point of view, and from the outside it’s easy to see how the cards are stacked against him from the beginning. His letters from prison reveal his struggle to keep up with school and focus on the future when so much in his life is hard and threatening.

Meanwhile, Natasha’s life is moving forward. High school is a struggle, but she’s committed to it. She goes on a trip to Paris with her French class. Her world is getting bigger by the day, and college is just ahead.

These letters between the two span a decade. They talk about everything: his prison sentence, her struggles with high school, the changes in their families and in their Harlem neighborhood, and eventually, the details of the crime that has separated them.  Despite the flaws they reveal, both Natasha and Antonio are easy to root for, both as a couple and as individuals. Eventually they both change, grow up, and grow apart. Bittersweet, but a lot like real life.

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