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Third Eye

Got More Game

By Afefe Tyehimba | Posted 1/22/2003

It had taken three trips to area bookstores to find it, but at last, in the Gallery mall at the Inner Harbor, I spied a copy of B-More Careful, a novel by Shannon Holmes that, I'd been told repeatedly, was a ghetto-fabulous must-read. Word on the street is that the book is all the rage among Baltimore's young and restless set--middle- and high-schoolers who'd sooner eat worms than read a 280-page novel. But unlike the fictional escapades of Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins, Holmes' characters--with names like Netta, Fila, and Black--are straight off of Monroe and Fayette streets in West Baltimore, living a print-version reality that reflects readers' daily lives.

B-More Careful isn't just a hit in Baltimore. This month, it made Essence magazine's top-five list of national paperback bestsellers. According to information from the publisher's Web site, www.meowmeowproductions.com, the book, listed at $14.95, has sold more 100,000 copies since its January 2002 release--impressive numbers considering that young people, many from struggling households, are the ones helping to boost sales.

Holmes, presumably a Baltimore native--the book's acknowledgments give a shout out to the author's "B'More Homies"--wrote the novel while imprisoned for a "minor drug charge," according to Meow Meow's Web site, which doesn't offer contact or book-tour information for the author. Holmes may be a bit of a mystery, but B-More's story line is made clear on page 4. There, we learn about a young female clique called the Pussy Pound, "self-proclaimed bad girls capable of having casual sex without becoming emotionally attached. On the contrary," says the novel's narrator, "you had to pay to play with them. They got down for their crown."

It's called The Game, where, in the pursuit of Chanel and Gucci, platinum and diamonds, young ladies get their salads tossed by high-profile drug dealers whose teeth and ears glitter in the spotless sheen of 20-inch rims. The guys offer recourse to girls trying to escape abject poverty, drug-addicted, abusive, and absent parents, etc. The novel is also a cautionary tale that describes--explicitly--the high price paid by girls who cross the wrong baller.

"Black rained down blows from every angle to every part of [Netta's] body. Unable to maintain her balance, Netta fell to the floor. After rendering her helpless, Black walked over to the night stand and grabbed his pimp sticks." The wire-hanger whipping occurs after Black has raped and sodomized Netta for running game that, among other things, cost him a seven-carat diamond ring. After "humping away like a crazed dog in heat," Black takes perverse pleasure in hearing Netta's screams "to get his dick out of her asshole."

The scene is disturbing, especially when you think of all the pubescent readers taking it in. More disturbing, then, is a local ninth-grade girl's blithe response when asked, during one of my writing workshops, why the book is so popular. "It's real," she quipped. "That stuff really happens." The sad proclamation affirms the book's ending, where Holmes opines that "circumstances dictate our choices in life. Only in theory do we control our own destiny. . . . At an early age, if placed in the same situations, do you think you'd make it? How? Think about it, before you rush to pass judgment or condemn someone else."

I thought about it, long and hard. But I still don't agree that circumstances alone dictate life outcomes. Influence, yes--but hammer-on-gavel-like done deals? I'd sooner believe Jesus was a crack fiend.

I don't agree with Holmes, but I also can't knock his attempt at keeping it real for lots of people who live in places where true love, stability, and material things are in short supply. Years ago, such hunger was depicted in novels like Iceberg Slim's Trick Baby and Pimp. Those books were all the rage because they also told gritty, exploitative stories that affirmed the ghetto experience, even while saying, in effect, "There's gotta be something more than this to life."

No doubt, The Game has a history. Many of us grew up in "mixed use" neighborhoods where the drug lord lived two doors down from the preacher who lived three doors down from the teacher. We heard the cries of abused women and children, cries that continued as soon as the cops left. We saw foil packets slipping through windows of Lincoln Continentals with black-tinted windows. A lot of people died; more were born, especially to what grandmas called "fast girls always opening their legs."

Good girls had wicked ways, too. They didn't go for crass names like Pussy Pound, but they still gave it up for things like rabbit-fur jackets and opal rings. Still, those same girls read books by Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Buchi Emecheta--books that decried circumstantial limits and self-resignation.

Granted, times have changed, and the Game's stakes have risen--especially given deadly STDs, plentiful lethal weapons, and alarming murder rates. All the more reason why I hope young people flipping the pages of B-More Careful will read between the hard lines to get this message: It ain't necessarily so.

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Here's Looking at You (5/19/2004)
...I've gradually discovered that my heart's got issues when it comes to whatever place I call home.

Sappy Anniversary (5/12/2004)
Suburban flight isn't the only reason many schools have resegregated almost organically, especially in cities, like Baltimore, with vast "minority" populations.

Om (5/5/2004)
Efforts to snuggle closer to the Big Dawg seem more doable--not to mention, if heaven awaits, more worthwhile.

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