Survival in the big city
Nothing good comes of bad money. That's the lesson Raspberry Hill learns in Sharon G. Flake's newest novel, Begging for Change. In this sequel to her 2002 Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Money Hungry, Flake tells the story of young Raspberry, whose life revolves around money. It's not that she has much, it's just that money is the only thing that makes her feel safe and strong. But after her mother gets beaten up by a neighborhood bully (for trying to clean up the projects), and her father, a homeless crack addict, shows up at her mother's hospital room (looking for money to get another hit), Raspberry's sense of security gets thrown into a tailspin.
Through the eyes of this (barely) teenage girl, Flake tells a tale of greed and forgiveness in a surprisingly poignant and lively manner. Raspberry's wide-open eyes reflect the dangers of her neighborhood and the frustration and confusion she and her friends encounter. From avoiding gangs of angry neighbors, to helping her friends sort our their racial identities, Raspberry's experiences transcend those of a normal teen. The weight of her burdens and the damage done soon become apparent to everyone. Although Raspberry had been a "good" girl for most of her life, her frustrations and anger with her continual "bad luck" lead her to do something she would never normally do. In an act of greed, she not only jeopardizes a friendship, she brings to the surface her greatest fear: that she is just like her thieving father. Raspberry soon realizes first-hand that "stealing from someone is like killing a part of them." In order to forgive her father, Raspberry first has to be forgiven herself by all of those she has hurt.
Flake's eye-opening view of this troubled youth shows us that even in the darkest alleyways of the inner city, a glimmer of hope can shine. And while nothing comes of bad money, good things can come of good people.
Heidi Henneman writes from San Francisco.