For fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Brit Bennett, a striking coming-of-age debut about friendship, community, and resilience, set in the housing projects of Chicago during one life-changing summer.
"Toya Wolfe is a storyteller of the highest order. Last Summer on State Street is a stunning debut."—Rebecca Makkai, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Believers
Even when we lose it all, we find the strength to rebuild.
Felicia “Fe Fe” Stevens is living with her vigilantly loving mother and older teenaged brother, whom she adores, in building 4950 of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes. It’s the summer of 1999, and her high-rise is next in line to be torn down by the Chicago Housing Authority. She, with the devout Precious Brown and Stacia Buchanan, daughter of a Gangster Disciple Queen-Pin, form a tentative trio and, for a brief moment, carve out for themselves a simple life of Double Dutch and innocence. But when Fe Fe welcomes a mysterious new friend, Tonya, into their fold, the dynamics shift, upending the lives of all four girls.
As their beloved neighborhood falls down around them, so too do their friendships and the structures of the four girls’ families. Fe Fe must make the painful decision of whom she can trust and whom she must let go. Decades later, as she remembers that fateful summer—just before her home was demolished, her life uprooted, and community forever changed—Fe Fe tries to make sense of the grief and fraught bonds that still haunt her and attempts to reclaim the love that never left.
Profound, reverent, and uplifting, Last Summer on State Street explores the risk of connection against the backdrop of racist institutions, the restorative power of knowing and claiming one’s own past, and those defining relationships which form the heartbeat of our lives. Interweaving moments of reckoning and sustaining grace, debut author Toya Wolfe has crafted an era-defining story of finding a home — both in one’s history and in one’s self.
Wolfe debuts with the heartbreaking story of a young girl and her family during a summer of destruction and tragedy. It's 1999 and the Chicago Housing Authority is tearing down the Robert Taylor Homes, where 12-year-old FeFe Stevens lives with her mother and older brother, Meechie. FeFe enjoys the summer double-dutching and running around with her friends Stacia Buchanan, part of the building's ruling gang family, and Precious, a religious girl from FeFe's church. After a new girl, Tonya, appears, FeFe invites her to play with them despite Stacia's dislike of her. Wolfe's richly realized characters endure racism, displacement, and violence, but also experience love. Short, evocative chapters build a foreboding sense of the inevitable while FeFe is forced to reckon with harsh realities around her, among them Tonya's mother's crack addiction, Stacia's gang loyalty, Meechie's struggle to resist gang life, and other ravages of life in the project. As the destruction of their building approaches, tensions and violence rise. By the traumatic end, FeFe is left lonely and scared, but her pain pushes her to escape. Wolfe's arresting and atmospheric narrative comes fully realized. This is a gut punch. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, DeFiore & Co.