After Tupac and D Foster

by Jacqueline Woodson
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1658

After Tupac and D Foster is narrated by an unnamed twelve-year-old girl who, in the prologue, summarizes most of what happens in the book. She and her friend Neeka develop a friendship with a mysterious girl named D Foster, whose real mother eventually comes and takes her away. During their two years of friendship, the three girls watch their hero, Tupac Shakur, survive a near-fatal shooting, go to jail for “some dumb stuff,” have a personal revelation that thug life is wrong, and finally get killed. “Time kept passing on that way. Things and people changing,” the narrator says.

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As the story begins, the narrator is eating pizza and watching a Tupac video with Neeka and D. The main character wants both girls to spend the night, but D says her foster mother, Flo, told her to come home tonight. As the girls walk D to the bus stop, they think about Tupac’s lyrics. The main character reflects that D, like Tupac, understands life in a way many others—including the main character herself—cannot. At that moment, D says, “The way I figure it, we all just out in the world trying to figure out our Big Purpose.” She says she does not know her purpose yet but that she will tell the others when she does.

Neeka and the narrator have been friends forever but their relationship with D is fairly new. The narrative skips back in time to their first meeting, when D explains that she roams around New York, going wherever she likes, even though she is only eleven years old. The other two, who are not even allowed to leave their block, are jealous. They invite D to bring a rope for double Dutch if she ever returns. A few days later, she does, and the girls start a tentative friendship.

Over time, the narrator and Neeka tell D all about their families. Neeka has several brothers and sisters. Her big brother Jayjones wants to be a professional basketball player, and her brother Tash is “a queen” who sometimes has trouble with people who make fun of his homosexuality. The main character is an only child, a bright girl whose poor, single mother wants her to go to college someday.

When D is not around, the other girls’ mothers grill them about their new friend; they worry that this child they do not know will be a bad influence on their daughters. When the narrator’s mother asks who D’s daddy is, the main character says she does not know—but she points out that she barely knows who her own father is, either. She is annoyed at her mother’s grilling and wants to say, “Mama, there’s always stuff we’re not ever gonna know,” but she holds herself back because she knows her mother would find this rude.

The main character and Neeka see hard truths in their lives in spite of their mothers’ overprotective attitudes. One day Jayjones comes home and says that a police officer stopped him on the street just because he was a black boy running. Their hero, Tupac, gets arrested and has to face a white judge who disapproves of the fact that Tupac has “THUG LIFE” tattooed on his belly. The narrator’s mother, who does not even like Tupac, finds this unjust. When the three girls learn that their hero is going to jail, they sit silently on the steps in the cold until they all feel numb.

The next day, Tupac is shot. The girls cry and talk about his lyrics, which send the message that for black kids like them, “the world doesn’t really care.” For the first time, D tells about her life at some of the foster homes she lived in as a young child. In one of them, the foster parents spent her support checks on crack instead of food. D says that Tupac is the sort of man who comes back stronger when someone gets him down. Listening to his music makes her feel like she does not want to give up. As the next few months pass, the girls notice that black boys are far more likely to end up in prison than seems just. By the time Tupac is out of jail, Neeka’s brother Tash is in prison for a crime he did not commit.

One day D offers to let the other two girls roam with her. They are still not supposed to leave the block without permission, so the narrator is hesitant. Neeka, however, rushes at the chance to go. They take the bus to a park, where D shows them a beautiful, snow-covered amphitheater. They make snow angels and shout, “We’re here!” and listen to the echoes of their own voices. Afterward, the narrator and Neeka are euphoric, feeling they understand D—and their friendship—better than before. They expect to be friends forever.

Months later, the narrator goes with Neeka and her family to visit Tash in prison. On the way, Neeka complains that with so many brothers and sisters, she never gets any peace and to think about her Big Purpose. She says she wants to grow up to have people know her name, to get respect even from white people. That, she says, is what she admires about Tupac—that he got rich and famous even though he came from a poor, struggling family. “I want people to see me...and know I’m somebody.” She confesses that she wants to be a college professor, maybe for math or law.

Tash is in jail for an assault he did not commit. Everyone knows he is innocent but, as Neeka says, “We aint’ the ones that need to be knowing. Us knowing don’t do anybody any good.” The lawyers and judges and police officers need to know that Tash is a gentle young man who would not commit acts of violence unless attacked, but none of those people believe his story. He got into trouble because he fell in love with a tough guy, Sly, who pretended to be gay to trick him. As a child, Tash learned piano from a gentle gay man named Randall who remained friends with him into his young adulthood. Sly convinced Tash to bring him and a friend to Randall’s house, where he and the friend beat both Tash and Randall badly. Randall was hurt and scared and unable to remember who exactly attacked him, so the police accused Tash of participating in the attack. Now he cannot convince them he is innocent.

When the narrator arrives home that night, she finds D waiting. D asks to sleep over. When the narrator asks if it is okay with Flo, D says, “Flo don’t own me. She just my foster mom.” She tells the others a bit more about her life, shifting from foster home to foster home as a “throwaway kid,” as she once heard herself called. She has been with Flo for three and a half years, longer than any other foster mother. Now her real mom wants her back, and she is scared to go. “I think her Big Purpose got all scattered or something, so she goes chasing after it,” D explains. Neeka and the narrator promise to remain D’s friend forever, but when D leaves, she does not come back for months. The girls realize they do not even have D’s phone number.

When D finally returns, she is with a white woman who turns out to be her mother. The woman calls her Desiree, and the other two are shocked to learn that they have not known their good friend’s name all this time. Even her last name is different—Johnson, not Foster, as she always claimed. When Neeka complains about this, D says:

What difference would it make? You gonna like me less or more because I got a white mama? Or because my name wasn’t my name?

She explains that she feels like a part of something when she is with the other girls, and that is the important thing. She also says that not even she knows everything about herself because her mother has not told her. Her mother is taking her away, but she gives the girls a rope and promises to visit soon. Neeka gives D a Walkman with a Tupac album in it. They promise to be friends forever.

On the same day D goes away, Tash is released from prison because Randall gets some of his memory back and testifies that Sly and his friends were gay bashing. Some time later, Jayjones gets offered several scholarships to play college basketball. The next school year starts, and Neeka’s mother still insists on walking the girls to school every day, even though they are now thirteen. Then Tupac gets shot again, and the narrator and Neeka stick close to the radio, waiting to hear what will happen to him.

That is when the narrator gets a call from D. “Our boy ain’t gonna make it,” she says. The narrator feels their friendship as strongly as ever even though D has been gone for weeks. D gives her a new phone number but warns her that the phone might not work if her mother does not pay the bill. When Tupac dies, the narrator and Neeka try to call D, but nobody answers. The narrator never does manage to get in touch with D again, but whenever she hears Tupac’s music, she thinks of “people like D, about all the kids whose mamas went away.” Some people say that Tupac is still alive, that he has run away to the Caribbean to get away from people shooting him. The narrator does not believe this—but sometimes she likes to imagine him and D on a Caribbean beach, together and whole.

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