Way Past Cool

Way Past Cool

by Jess Mowry


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Way Past Cool was the first -- perhaps the only -- novel of urban American black life in the early 1990's: the era of collapsed structures, lost dreams, dashed hopes, agonizing violence, and a level of rage that for white America is simply unfathomable. But, have things gotten any better?

Way Past Cool is the story of 13-year-old boys who live alone in abandoned buildings, of 16-year-old single mothers, and of lives that make kids old by the time they graduate from junior high... if they live that long.

This novel stars Gordon, who at the age of 13, leads his gang through the deadly streets of West Oakland, California. He carries a gun, has seen more people die than a Vietnam platoon leader, and can out-swear a dozen sailors. Gordon is backed by Lyon, a fragile-looking soft-spoken boy whose forays into mysticism have given him a spirituality that belies that fact that he'll blow your head off if he has to. Gordon's gang, known as The Friends, live in a state of tense coexistence with The Crew. The tenuous peace of their neighborhood is broken by Deek, a drug dealer whose bodyguard, Ty, is trying to protect his own little brother from the street life. Deek is trying to sell guns to each gang in hope of escalating their turf rivalry into real war... for his benefit. On the sidelines sit the police. The ones who aren't actually on the take are happy to let the kids kill each other off.

Throughout this story of despair, violence, and hopelessness, runs a thread of human feeling and power that prevails even over the horrific reality of the characters' lives. The connection between the members of the gang is one of mutual survival, and of kids trying to meet each other's emotional needs without "proper parental guidance" or decent societal role-models. These young boys are violent, vulgar, and perceived by most of mainstream society as a lost cause, yet there is something uniquely human about them... all children are born knowing how to love, but must be taught how to hate. In a way that many "kinder and gentler" people will never understand, they love each other, and in each other they find hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780998076744
Publisher: Anubis
Publication date: 11/09/2016
Pages: 246
Sales rank: 891,028
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.52(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Gordon! GUN!" screamed Curtis, diving off his skateboard onto trash-covered concrete.

Gordon dove from his board too, all 180 pounds rolling and skidding then scrambling warp-seven behind a dumpster as a full-auto fired from a battered black van. Velcro ripped and his backpack burst open. Books and a binder tumbled out. Another gun joined the first, a rhythmic steely stutter of Uzis in chorus. Bullets pocked brick, sending chips whizzing and spattering to a whine of ricochets that sounded just like the movies. The dumpster rang dully as silver dents stitched its rusty sides.

Gordon was a born leader, first to risk his butt, with a natural balance of brains and balls tempered by a healthy helping of fear. As with all good leaders, his decisions came fast under fire; if they happened to be the right ones, so much the better. But there were times when a gang leader had to do stupid things--like jumping to his feet and offering his head and shoulders as an easy target while he cupped his hands to his mouth and bawled, "DOWN, suckers!"

The warning wasn't needed: the other boys had already scattered among garbage cans, their boards abandoned and darting away as if seeking cover too. Gordon's stupidity would be remembered later as cool, though he never considered that. In another sort of war he might have won a medal.

The auto-fire cut off: thirty-two-round magazines emptied fast at 550 rounds per minute, as most kids in West Oakland knew. It was as if somebody had switched on silence. Gordon jerked the old .22 pistol from the back of his jeans and got off three quick shots in the van's general direction before the worn-out little gun jammed. Itspopping sounded weak and wimpy after the 9mm Uzi snarls.

But the van peeled away, rubber screeching and blue smoke blasting from rusty chrome side pipes. Gordon cursed and beat the gun's butt on the dumpster lid. It fired again, once, defiant now in the sudden morning stillness. Brick dust puffed from a building across the street, and a window nearby slammed shut. The van's engine roar faded up the block. Tires squealed as the van got sideways around the corner.

"Motherfuckin piece of SHIT!" raged Gordon. He almost whacked the gun again, but caught himself in time and looked around instead while wiping a skinned and bloody elbow on his jeans. "Yo! Anybody hit?"

Four heads poked up from behind a ragged row of garbage cans: Ric and Rac, the twins, identically flat-topped and wide-eyed, Curtis with his long, ratty dreadlocks, and Lyon's fluffy bush, like an Afro gone wild.

"Hey!" squeaked Curtis, his expression amazed. "I got myself shot in the back!"

Beside him, Lyon lifted Curtis' tattered T-shirt, plain and faded black like the other boys' . . . gang colors. "Yeah? Well, you for sure be takin it cool, man. Let's check it out."

Curtis squirmed, trying to look over his shoulder. "Well, how the fuck I sposed to take it?"

The twins squeezed close too, their mouths open in duplicate wonder and tawny eyes bright with curiosity.

Gordon walked over, carrying the gun muzzle-down.

Lyon glanced at the fat boy over Curtis' head. "That thing gonna go off again, Gordon?"

Gordon spat on the garbage-slimed concrete, holding the pistol like a snapping rat by its tail. "Now how the fuck I know, man? Piece of shit jam up just when you needin it, an then go off when you don't! How many goddamn times I say we gotta save back for some kinda better gun?"

He scowled at the other boys, and pointed. "An how many motherfuckin times I gotta tell you dudes not to hide a'hind stupid ole garbage cans in a firelight?" He aimed a finger at one can bleeding yellow goo. "Dumpster steel mostly stop bullets. Them don't!" His eyes, obsidian hard in a coffeecolored face, softened slightly and his voice gentled down. "So, how Curtis?"

Lyon dabbed at Curtis' shoulder blade with the tail of his own tee. "Stop that silly wigglin, sucker!" Spitting on his fingers, Lyon wiped more blood. The scent of it was coppery, like new pennies. Finally, he smiled and patted Curtis' arm. "It be only a cut. Like from a chunk of flyin brick or somethin. Nowhere near his heart. That be all what matter."

Curtis tried to reach around to his back, but couldn't. "Well, it for sure feel like I been shotted!"

Gordon wedged his bulk between the cans and peered at the wet ruby slice across the smaller boy's honey-bronze skin. He snorted. "Shit. Don't signify nuthin, man. You ever get yourself shot for real, you fuckin well know it! We all check out how way past cool you handle it, then!"

The twins exchanged identical glances and snickered in stereo. "Best believe, sucker!" said Ric. "Gordy been shot! He give it a name! Word, you, Curtis!"

"Yeah!" giggled Rac. "In the butt, he shot! Yo, Gordy, show us again!"

Lyon had a funny V-shaped smile that looked mostly smart-ass even when it wasn't. "Bein shot sposed to mean you way past bad." He turned his smile on Gordon. "Course, gettin butt-shot just don't tell the same, huh?"

Gordon chewed his lip a moment, then growled. "Pend a lot on whose butt you talkin, don't it?" He jabbed Rac in the chest with a finger. "An stop callin me Gordy, goddamnit!" Squatting with a grunt, he started picking up his garbage-stained papers.

"Well," said Ric, "I get myself shot, I want it be in the arm, Gor-DEN!"

"Word!" agreed Rac. "Wear a tank top all the time. Look way past cool, believe!"

Gordon spat again, barely missing Rac's Nikes. "Yo, raisin-brain! Gettin shot more like to make you way past DEAD! Ever hear of somebody bein actual shot in the arm real-time? That ain't nuthin but TV dogshit, sucker!" He glared at the gun, then looked up at Lyon. "I feel like dustin this goddamn thing, man. Prob'ly end by killin one of us someday stead of doin any good." Way Past Cool. Copyright © by Jess Mowry. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Terry McMillan

A stellar literary debut that should be read by all of mainstream America.
—(Terry McMillan, author of Waiting to Exhale)

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Way past Cool 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
rowfy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Way Past Cool by Jess Mowry is a story about young gang kids in Oakland, Cali during the 1990s when crack was just starting to became a major problem in black innercities and had not yet spread to the white burbs. We meet a gang called The Friends. The leader is a cool fat boy named Gordon, who is 13. There are twins named Ric and Rac, a half-white boy named Curtis, and a boy named Lyon who a lot of people think has magic powers. There is a rival gang a few blocks away called The Crew. Its leader is Wesely, a ripped dude, and his posse is Tunk, Brett, Turbo, Ajay, and Gameboy. The gangs get along pretty well, but a 16-year-old crack dealer named Deek is trying to get them to fight so he can put the moves on their ground. Deek has a bodyguard named Ty who is basically trapped in the game. Ty's little brother, Danny (aka Furball) wants into the game, and Ty doesn't like that idea. The story is about how the two young gangs come together to take Deek down and try to keep crack out of their hood. This book has all the words in it, if you know what I'm saying, so you might not find it in your school library. It is one of the best books about being a street kid because it doesn't gloify thug life, but it doesn't preach at you either. It just tells a story and lets you decide what you think is right. There is also a movie, which is good but low-budget, but I think the book is a lot better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of my three all time favorites by Jess Mowry, which include Babylon Boyz and Six Out Seven. From the opening line of 'Gordon! GUN!' to the violent climax and somewhat bittersweet ending, this book generally makes even reluctant readers keep turning pages. The film is good, too, as long as one doesn't expect a high-budget Hollywood black violence feature and I show it in my classes after we've read the novel. There is also an audio book but 'sadly' abridged.¿ This book is very much still in print, though apparently not available through B&N.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when I was 13. It is very honest and real and doesn't glorify the thug life. It does show the reasons why many kids chose to live it. It also shows how American society does a lot to keep these kids in dirty violent places like the inner city. The movie was not as good as the book, but very few movies are. I think it is still worth seeing. This book is still in print and you can find it new by doing a google.
Guest More than 1 year ago
probably one of the most incredible books i've read. im not big on reading. theres very few books i've read and it kept my interest. this as one of them just incredible. gives you differant out look on life and what kids are capible of. must read
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the independent movie version of this book at the Honolulu film festival in 2002 and still think about the film, search for it and recomend it to peers. If the book is half as good as the film was I'm in for a treat. Mr. Mowry, revealing this story may have been somewhat of a curse for you, but it is a blessing for humanity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a Bay Area native, and although I don't live the same kind of lives as those in this book, I found it very enlightening, to sound corny. This extremely well-written novel really opened my eyes to a world that to me has only been heard from distant neighborhoods. I highly recommend this this captivating story of love, hope, and human behavior.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Way Past Cool is a great book, it shows what goes on in real life if your in a gang, it talks about gangs, love, sex and other things that are a shock...i read this book for school, and i was surprised of how much i would like it, i couldn't put it down, jess mowry is a great author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an on tha real story of young gang kids. I love Jess Mowry's characters. They are so real that you can see them on tha streets when you're riding tha bus. This is tha best story about what it's like to really be in a gang or involved with drug dealing. You can see that these kids don't have any choice about living this kind of life if they want to survive. Jess Mowry reminds us that these are really everybody's kids and that to let their dreams die unfulfilled is everybody's shame. He also reminds us that it is not young black kids who are bringing all tha drugs into America and pumping them into tha innercities.