Kendra, published by Push in 2008, is author Coe Booth’s follow-up to her well-received debut novel, Tyrell.
Kendra’s main character is fourteen-year-old Kendra Williamson. She lives in Bronxwood with her grandmother, Nana. Kendra’s twenty-eight-year-old mother, Renee, lives in Harlem and is completing her PhD, which makes Kendra feel out of place and left behind. Nana is strict, and Kendra looks forward to the day when her mother returns and they can get their own apartment. Kendra and her grandmother have lived together for as long as Kendra can remember.
At fourteen, Kendra understandably is much more curious about life outside of her Nana’s home. Kendra meets a boy named Nashawn, and their relationship quickly moves to a sexual one, which worries Kendra. She does not want to have a baby at the age of fourteen as her mother did. As a form of compromise, they engage in anal and oral sex, which only makes Kendra feel guilty. These feelings prompt Kendra to feel confused and to miss her mother even more.
Kendra’s aunt, Adonna, is someone whom Kendra can talk to about anything. However, she is not sure if she can talk to Adonna about Nashawn because she knows how Adonna feels about him. Adonna frequently asks Kendra about Darnell, a nice boy who wants to be with Kendra.
Booth’s narrative is intricate and richly detailed because she presents not only Kendra’s point of view but that of her mother and grandmother as well. The adults in the novel are confronted with responsibilities they did not choose and they are ultimately unhappy about the sacrifices they must make. Nana would like to pursue a relationship of her own; however, the presence of her granddaughter makes such an idea very difficult. Kendra’s father lives at home with his mother and drives a snack-food truck for minimum wage. He also cares deeply for Kendra and recognizes the limitations of his own life and their impact on her.
Critics note that Booth offers a novel packed with controversial material: abortion, teen pregnancy, and sex. The characters themselves, however, offset many stereotypes and present a group of vulnerable but bold women.