Title: Black Sheep
Author: Na’ima Bint Robert
Date: Francis Lincoln Ltd.; 2013
Main Character: Dwayne Kingston
In trying to classify Black Sheep, I think I’d have to label it both ‘urban fiction’ and ‘religious fiction’. Dwayne Kingston is having trouble at school because it just isn’t relevant to him. He has more fun, gains more power and makes more money out in the streets with his crew. They’ve always terrorized the neighborhood and sold drugs, but when Dwayne meets Misha, a posh girl from uptown, he begins to see the world through new lenses. At the same time, one of his crew, Tony, becomes Muslim and changes his entire behavior. We see both Tony and Misha having an affect on Dwayne, but we also sense that his stubbornness is going to lead to a disastrous outcome. Dwayne’s not a kid anymore and he has to make some important decisions about his life. Black Sheep was originally published in Great Britain and retains more British English that most books I’ve read that originate from there. I’d really like to know why the editor didn’t change some of the British dialect because it does make reading the story choppy.
I believe religious novels are difficult to write. By their nature, they have to be upbeat, true to the faith their reflecting and they have to provide a lot of faith based information without being didactic. Honestly, on those accounts I believe Robert more than succeeded. Rather than giving young readers a hokey story where everything is good, she packs Dwayne’s life full of road blocks and dead ends. His options seem limited until he finds something greater than himself. We know that Islam will save Dwayne, that’s the point of the story but, it needs to be believable to be good.
Robert has a lot going on in this story, almost too much. Misha has the second narrative voice but her character is more of a prop for Dwayne. Dwayne has a younger brother who idolizes him, but the relationship is not developed. There are parental issues, school issues, a misunderstanding of the radicalism of Islam, Dwayne’s DJing gigs, class issues and power struggles between gangs. Young readers looking for a romance with a male lead, or searching for life’s larger meanings may enjoy this as it is a change from most urban dramas. Unfortunately, it’s not a solid read.
Na,ima B. Robert’s other young adult novels include From Somalia With Love, Boy vs. Girl and Far From Home. She was a finalist for Published Writer of the Year at the Brit Writers Awards 2012.