Show And Prove - Review
Show And Prove by Sofia Quintero feels so current. And that's despite it being published back in 2015 and set in The Bronx of the 1980s. I can't believe it took me this long to pick up a copy. Old School Hip-Hop might be making a comeback, at least that's what it feels like, fresh from watching The Get Down on Netflix. This book has that same vibe. It really takes you back to when Hip-Hop was fresh and no one knew for sure where it was going.
It's a young adult novel, a coming of age story, and one that's far more sophisticated than you might typically expect. Show and Prove is told in the first person, present tense, which is standard for the genre. Although this isn't my personal preference, here it worked well. It's told from two perspectives, Nike and Smiles. At the beginning I'd have preferred to have had a greater emphasis on the different voices of these characters. But soon enough you come to learn about them and this then helps you differentiate between them. And then you can really get in each of their heads as they tell their stories.
Nike is a bit of a playboy and develops an interest in a slightly mysterious girl on the block, Sara. But there are complications to the development of their relationship. Nike has a lot to learn about the world. He needs to mature in ways only exposure to the world, and his own mistakes, can teach him. Smiles is struggling with his identity, attending a predominantly white school that's separated him from Nike and the hood. But he's struggling with more than racial identity. He's got one foot in the white man's world and the thinking that goes with that, and another foot in the hood and the street knowledge he doesn't want to deny. He feels the rich history of that knowledge, and the power of ideas from the likes of Malcolm X. He's tangled up in trying to find his own ideas vs. following others.
Smiles and Nike are supported by a handful of other characters, all of whom felt as authentic as they did. The two other key characters in Show and Prove were Cookie and Sara. As mentioned, Sara is Nike's love interest. The depth of her character is what sets Nike off on his journey of discovering his own depth. Sara is sweet, traditional, and has a secret Nike doesn't learn about until he's already put his foot in it. Cookie is the balance to this whole mix. She's got a good head on her shoulders, even if it takes both Nike and Smiles a while to see it.
At times I felt this book was written for me. My master's degree was in Hip-Hop history, and my bachelor's degree in international relations. Show And Prove authentically sets the Bronx Hip-Hop scene in the 80s, while also bringing in an international dimension, because of what was happening in Lebanon during the same period. Any more said on that would risk spoilers. I enjoyed all the musical references. It was also pleasing to see breakdancing so well represented. Back then it was pretty much the dominant force within hip-hop.
While this felt very authentic I did find myself wondering how accessible this would be to younger readers today, even with an accompanying reference guide. Although this is aimed at the young adult market, it has to be aimed at a specific group of young adults. I think it would most appeal to those who have an interest in Old School Hip-Hop and the sociopolitical issues of the day. I found the storyline very socially and politically aware. Unfortunately for the world we live in, some of the issues tackled in Show And Prove are still a challenge today. For that reason, I think this is an important book for younger readers as it will undoubtedly raise their awareness of ongoing struggles.
I loved the injection of Spanish into the writing as this gave an authenticity to the characters and setting but would have preferred it if translations had been written in alongside the Spanish. Perhaps many readers will automatically understand. As a non-Spanish speaker from the UK, however, it was a little frustrating even with the ease of triggering a translation within the Kindle app.
One other niggle I noticed when reading this on Kindle was that there were irregular line spacings. When it came to new paragraphs, the space between that line and the one above was slightly larger than between other lines. I'm not sure if this was intended but felt it was worth mentioning because at first it was a little distracting to me.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Show and Prove. It was fun to follow the characters' journeys but also intellectually stimulating. The latter is something I've rarely found with a fictional novel. I think Sofia Quintero has done an outstanding job with this. The quality of her writing stands out within the urban fiction genre.
I think these characters have more to tell. Part of me is wondering whether Show And Prove could be followed by another book in the series - something contemporary? Perhaps looking at what has happened to Nike and Smiles now they are all grown up? It would be interesting to see how some of the social challenges of today could be played out with the same characters, and perhaps some new ones. I'm really keen to find out from Sofia Quintero whether she has any intention of writing a follow-up. I hope to secure an interview with her where we can get into discussion on this and other stuff.
I'll end this review by mentioning the very start of the book because I found it so understated yet insightful. Show And Prove starts with a dedication about starting something from nothing. I felt this was a comment on both the characters and Hip-Hop, like the two were interlinked. In the beginning, the essence of Hip-Hop music was found sound, recycling and remixing to produce something new and unique. Breakbeats from funk, jazz, and soul, played back and forth to produce a new record. This concept of making something from nothing, to become something from nothing, was the story of so many kids from the block back in the day. Trying to become something when they had nothing but their boundless energy and street smarts.
Show And Prove focuses heavily on this theme, with each character fighting to find who they are in their own individual battles with identity and situation. I find it interesting, but ultimately disappointing, to reflect that this lack of equal opportunity is still the case today, even thirty years on from when this story is set.
I give Show And Prove a very solid four stars. I'd definitely read the next book in the series, if ever there was one. And I encourage anyone who loves to go on a nostalgic Hip-Hop trip to read this book.
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