Literary Criticism and Significance
Jacqueline Woodson is a well-established young adult author whose books have received wide acclaim. She is a Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner, a two-time National Book Award finalist, a two-time Newbery Honor recipient, and a two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. In general, her books are praised for their delicate handling of various social issues and for their strong African American themes.
After Tupac and D Foster was named a Newbery Honor Book for 2009. It is remarkable for any story to receive this distinction, but in the case of After Tupac and D Foster it is especially impressive given the unconventional choices Woodson made in her writing. Characters in satisfying stories normally pursue a clear goal they either achieve or fail to achieve at the end. The kids in After Tupac and D Foster have a nebulous goal, one that is arguably impossible to achieve but also important to keep pursuing. Because of this, the novel feels more like a memory from real life than a typical work of fiction. A lesser author would be unable to write a successful story while straying so far from normal literary conventions.
Critical response to Woodson’s story has generally been positive, and many critics have noted that After Tupac and D Foster gives readers a chance to reflect on a wide variety of difficult issues. According to Jonathan Stephens of Teenreads.com, Woodson’s book “aims high and hits deep,” touching on issues as varied as fatherlessness, homosexuality, abandonment, art, and hope. He praises Woodson for weaving so many difficult issues into such an “airtight” text. The story is meditative and weighty, but never in a way that seems ponderous or unnatural to the story. Woodson has a light touch; she never descends into didacticism and always handles issues in a way that flows naturally within the story. Because these issues are tied to the lives of fully fleshed-out characters, they come across as realistic rather than superficial even when they are mentioned only in passing.
Above all, Woodson is praised for her ability to touch readers personally. She portrays real-life characters with a great deal of texture and realism. Readers of all backgrounds can relate to her characters—whether this experience helps them gain insight into others’ lives or gives them affirmation in seeing lives like their own portrayed in a book. Stephens writes:
As Tupac’s lyrics did (and still do), Woodson’s characters stand there, so familiar, and catch something in the hearts of her readers.