Eastside Story, by Steven Thedford, is a modern, urban coming-of-age story.
Teenage Egypt James agrees to follow her mother's footsteps and become a debutante in Atlanta. The season of pretty dresses, scholarship opportunities, upscale events and networking with successful Black former debs also includes a father/daughter cotillion, which is a bit problem for Egypt, since she hasn't seen her father in years. Egypt couldn't just ask an uncle or family friend to step in, since the mean girl debs will pounce on her for her broken family, and Egypt herself hopes to reunite with her father.
Meanwhile, Egypt's also becoming close to William, a handsome boy she meets while doing charity work. Good-looking and fun, William seems like a perfect boyfriend for Egypt. at first. But William has his own secrets, including family struggles, gang connections, and a hidden sexuality.
The risks are high in Eastside Story. Egypt faces typical teen troubles, like nasty classmates and vicious rumors. In addition, Egypt and her best friend also encounter older men who prey on younger girls. It's realistic and well-written, but not a theme I'd seen in a YA novel before. Most of the problems in this novel are organized by LD03, the local gang, who seem to be involved in everything from selling candy at school to sex work to Egypt's father's disappearance.
Eastside Story is a readable, engaging story, but it does have occasional moments where the situation is described to the reader too directly. I'd have preferred it to unfold more naturally -- I was almost immediately invested in Egypt and cared about what happened to her right away, so there's no need for the narrative to hurry. Egypt is such a warm and non-judgmental friend, calling her besties love all the time and accepting whatever they tell her, no matter how wild or upsetting, with affection. Her friendship with Paris develops over the book, but it felt warm and real the whole time. I enjoyed discovering which people in Egypt's life were kind and trustworthy, and which were unreliable and shady by their actions.
Don't let the romantic cover fool you: Handsome William is in the running for absolute worst boyfriend ever. Egypt faces an unpleasant sexual encounter (Consent? Maybe. Enthusiasm? Nope.), worries about very real risk of AIDS, and gets unexpectedly pregnant. William is absent when Egypt needs him, since one of the gang's rules is they all drop their girlfriends before Christmas to avoid buying them gifts. When Egypt discovers new strengths inside as the young mother of a very premature baby, William remains irresponsible, putting his gang friends before Egypt and their child. Readers can see Egypt mature through stressful situations in her life, and as she becomes a young woman, it's clear that William isn't a workable partner for her at all.
Eastside Story is a unique coming-of-age story, with intense risks for the teenagers involved. Egypt faces both huge loss and success in this story, and discovers who she is and what kind of woman she wants to become.
I received a review copy of this book to review, all opinions are my own, as always. This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you, if you purchase a book I've recommended here on my book blog..