Tamika Sykes, AKA Mik, is hearing impaired and way too smart for her West Bronx high school. She copes by reading lips and selling homework answers, and looks forward to the time each day when she can be alone in her room drawing. She's a tough girl who mostly keeps to herself and can shut anyone out with the click of her hearing aid. But then she meets Fatima, a teenage refugee who sells newspapers, and Jimmi, a homeless vet who is shunned by the rest of the community, and her life takes an unexpected turn.
This hard-hitting and lyrical novel opens with the apparent hanging of Jimmi Sixes, a disturbed 18-year-old veteran and street poet/junkie, back in the Bronx after his discharge from the army; the story then retraces the preceding month's events. Stubborn 15-year-old Tamika (aka Mik), who lives in the projects called the Orange Houses, is hearing-impaired but often prefers to turn off her hearing aids and text message rather than speak. Jimmi introduces her to Fatima, an illegal refugee who has just arrived from Africa ("Her pinky and ring finger were gone. If she held up the hand, say to block a machete blade, the angle of the slash through her palm would match that of the slash crossing her cheek"), and a friendship blossoms. Fatima and Jimmi try to protect Mik from a box-cutter-wielding girl and her posse, but Jimmi ends up caught by a vigilante group. Griffin's (Ten Mile River) prose is gorgeous and resonant, and he packs the slim novel with defeats, triumphs, rare moments of beauty and a cast of credible, skillfully drawn characters. A moving story of friendship and hope under harsh conditions. Ages 14 up.