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Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon St. Martin's Press, January 2005 $19.95, ISBN 0-312-33268-8

This freshman novel is ambitious in its use of letters, simple correspondence, to tell a complicated story. On many levels, Buckhanon is successful, as she introduces her main characters, teenagers Natasha and Antonio, through salutations, reminiscences and closing lines. Antonio writes secretly from a jail cell where he's awaiting trial for the murder of his father: "Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?"

"What happened? Did you kill him?" his high-school sweetheart, Natasha, asks in reply. There will be many questions between them, some unanswered, as they right to stay together over the course of 10 years.

Buckhanon has taken on a difficult task, and she has less success in giving depth to the novel at times because of her choice of technique. Reading letter after letter can become tiresome, especially in the absence of a true narrator. All details, even the limited dialogue, are buried within the body of their letters. Yet, as their journey progresses, the technique becomes less important and the story line takes over. Buckhanon's grasp of character outweighs any deficiencies of style as she delves into the minds of her characters, revealing a story that is well worth the telling.

Regina Cash-Clark Regina Cash-Clark is an assistant professor of journalism at Ramapo College of New Jersey.
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Author:Cash-Clark, Regina
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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