Buckhanon, K. (2005). Upstate. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN: 978-0312332693. Paperback: $11.95. Also available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook.
Antonio and Natasha are in a position no couple would ever wish for. Antonio is in prison, serving time for the murder of his father, while Natasha remains in Harlem, communicating with him by letter. We follow the letters between them for 10 years, seeing the ups and downs of their relationship, hearing their dreams, and watching their frustration. They grow together and grow apart, each maturing in their own way. The differences between them become more obvious, and their relationship gets rocky as the gap between them widens. After about two years, Antonio writes:
“Here I go sounding like a gangsta, and you sounding all educated. Guess that just go to show that me and you is worlds apart right now. Most education I’m gonna get is some bullshit certificate in, I don’t know, medical transcription or some other bullshit. It would have never lasted. Deep down inside I think I knew that, but I had to hold on to something. And I wanna thank you for sticking it out as long as you did. I wouldn’t have survived a year in here without being able to think about you belonging to me. That’s real. That’s love.” (p. 187)
Upstate is an emotional tale that explores the meaning of love, loyalty, justice, and ambition. Reading the story as letters lets us see the characters in their most vulnerable forms and makes for an unforgettable look into urban life.