adolescence have been rough in the poverty-ridden, gangster-territory area of Brixton.
Misha has always been reserved when it comes to boys, and driven when it comes to her studies. Pushed by a mother who insists on excellence, and setting her eyes on a top university, Misha finds herself bewildered by the feelings she has for Dwayne. As the relationship turns turbulent, Misha is forced to ask herself whether she’s just trying to escape her mother’s pressure, or if she really believes that Dwayne is worth the heartache. And if he is, what does that mean for her future?
Dwayne grew up on the council estates, living the gangbanger reality. Spitting beats, cruising the streets, and making money by selling weed is all Dwayne really knows. Although he’s managed to avoid getting arrested so far, his mother and the new principal at school both know that it won’t take long for the street life to swallow him up… until he meets Misha, that is.
Dwayne finds himself changed by Misha – her insistence that he can ‘rewrite the script’ and make something of himself, to look for a future that doesn’t revolve around the streets. Earnestly seeking to better himself, Dwayne finds that the harder he tries to fight against the cycle he’s been trapped in all his life, the more it threatens to pull him down. Even after accepting Islam, the dark side of life that Dwayne had tried to hide from Misha catches him to him in a way that threatens to destroy the fragile hopes he had begun to harbor.
Together, Misha and Dwayne wrestle with issues of identity, family, and true love, against the backdrop of gangs and drugs on the streets of London.
Echoing with Romeo-and-Juliet themes, Black Sheep is a book that I would strongly recommend for ages 11 and up, especially for young boys who glorify the gangster lifestyle. What’s refreshing is that although Islam plays an important role in the characters’ story, it remains a subtle influence that does not clash with the larger themes of the novel.
As well, though the points of view switch between Dwayne and Misha, the larger part of the narrative is focused on Dwayne, which would work well in keeping the attention of male readers. Na’ima B. Robert skillfully taps into a young man’s sense of confidence, insecurity, hopes, and fears to create an engaging, empathetic figure who learns that the best things are worth fighting for.
The street-style vocabulary, which is heavily used throughout the novel, is hard to understand at first, but the context usually assists in figuring out. It would have been a good idea to include a short appendix explaining the terms commonly used, especially for readers not based in the UK.
However, the story itself is very well written and the characters well developed. The message is clear but not preachy, and the book tackles themes that are serious without becoming too graphic, and without minimalizing the severity of the issues.
I would rate this book 4.5 out of 5, and would highly recommend this to Muslim parents and teachers alike, especially for young boys.