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Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon
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Kalisha Buchkhanon's Upstate was a recommendation from two of my former students. For two years, these two ladies hounded me about reading this young adult novel. I promised them before they graduated that I would read it, and as their graduation date loomed over me, I finally did (under the wire, but still). I was engrossed and enthralled by the decade-long correspondence between seventeen-year-old Antonio and sixteen-year-old Natasha. He was locked up for the murder of his father and Natasha tries to stay by his side through many distinct circumstances that usually arise in these situations. Upstate is a great novel that captures young love as it changes into adulthood, and I highly recommend it.

At first, I found the language hokey, and I wanted to correct the grammar, but it was written as though they were teenagers writing to each other. However, once I got over that, it was one of the quickest reads I have done in quite some time. I read every day for twelve days at the start of May (along with simultaneously listening to Beyonce's Lemonade, which is oddly a great companion piece, especially "All Night" and "Love Drought") and I noticed the sophistication in the storytelling. As their relationship started to morph, so did the writing. As Natasha graduated high school, studied in France, and persevered through college, we see how arduous her side of story was. Likewise, Antonio's changes are noteworthy because the reader witnesses the development of a young man who is taking responsibility for his actions. It ends up becoming a page-turner, especially as time goes on and they become the adults we predicted that they would.

Buckhanon has created a story that anyone can identify with, regardless of race, culture, or age. She has pinpointed the pain and ecstasy of being a teenager in love, much in the vein of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. The central ideas of growing up, love, and dealing with the ramifications of actions is key to loving this book. In the end, she thoroughly explores themes related to these ideas by investigating how Natasha and Antonio's changes are a natural part of becoming an independent, full-bodied individual. Their conflict is central to making them relatable characters who we see adapt to the world around them and figure out who they are. I enjoyed reading Upstate and I give a huge shout-out to Darlene and Nicole for recommending it two years ago.

By Mr. Frade

STRUCTURE FOR AP LITERATURE STUDENTS
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Paragraph 2.) Your thoughts on the book and its story - Make sure to address what you thought about the characters, the writing, the storyline, and any big ideas that the book was trying to get to.
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  MistaFrade | Jul 7, 2016 |
I bought an audio recording of the book at a used book sale and decided to play it in my car as I travel the southern roads of Alabama. The story surprised me with interesting characters told between a young couple whom are separated by incarceration and their lives are illustrated through letters to one another. To listen to Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon on audio is the best way you can actually hear the maturity in the main characters, Natasha's voice as the story progresses just like she did in the story.

The cover of this book caught my eye with a white butterfly on a red background. I have owned this book for several years and the only hesitation in reading it was on the assumption that it's of an urban nature based on its title "Upstate" referring to the New York and more precisely the prison. Urban is not my preferred genre, therefore I put off reading it until seven years later.

This book invoked so many emotions within me, sorrowful, proudness, shame and bittersweet to name a few. This was a very reflective story on love, pain and coming of age.

I'm anxiously awaiting to read her next novel, "Solemn" ( )
  altima313 | Jun 9, 2016 |
Someone told me before reading it that it was typical...and they were right. Everything I expected to happen, happened. I just wanted to be surprised just once. ( )
1 vote kjdavis87 | Apr 18, 2010 |
Reviewed by Jocelyn Pearce for TeensReadToo.com

UPSTATE is a powerful, moving story told in the form of letters written by Antonio and Natasha, two Harlem teens who are seventeen and sixteen years old, respectively, when the story starts. The first letter is from Antonio to his girlfriend Natasha, written from jail, asking if she believes what everyone else does: that Antonio murdered his father.

No matter what Natasha believes or what the truth is about what happened on that night, Antonio is convicted of the crime and goes to a prison in upstate New York (hence the title), sentenced to ten years. Ten years of just struggling to survive, clinging to his letters from Natasha, his lifeline even if they can't, realistically, be together forever, no matter what they believe as optimistic teenagers when Antonio first goes to jail. Natasha, on the other had, isn't having an easy time of growing up and becoming a real adult. She's facing tough choices, probably almost as desperate for the next letter as Antonio.

This is an emotional story, a love story, but a real one, not a happily-ever-after, "no problems whatsoever" story like a Disney movie. The characters in UPSTATE are just as real as the story, and Antonio's and Natasha's authentic voices are a great addition to this novel.

Usually, I am not a big fan of novels written in letter form (or e-mail or instant message form, as is sometimes now the case), but Kalisha Buckhanon's novel is certainly an exception to that. It is very well-written, with believable characters that make this story what it is: fantastic. ( )
  GeniusJen | Oct 13, 2009 |
Heartbreaking story of young love torn apart by a murder. It's very well-written and pulls the reader in to the character's world. ( )
  ahooper04 | Apr 1, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312332696, Paperback)

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

So begins Upstate, a powerful story told through letters between seventeen-year-old Antonio and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Natasha, set in the 1990's in New York. Antonio and Natasha's world is turned upside down, and their young love is put to the test, when Antonio finds himself in jail, accused of a shocking crime. Antonio fights to stay alive on the inside, while on the outside, Natasha faces choices that will change her life. Over the course of a decade, they share a desperate correspondence. Often, they have only each other to turn to as life takes them down separate paths and leaves them wondering if they will ever find their way back together.

Startling, real, and filled with raw emotion, Upstate is an unforgettable coming-of-age story with a message of undeniable hope. Brilliant and profoundly felt, it is destined to speak to a new generation of readers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The story of a young couple in love and their struggle to maintain a relationship while the young man is incarcerated for a horrendous crime. In their letters beginning in 1990, Natasha and Antonio look back at their courtship against the landscape of their beloved Harlem.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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Kalisha Buckhanon is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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