Book Review: Dakota Grand: A Novel
Book Reviewed by Brian Egeston
There are codes within creeds and creeds within cliques. Perhaps this is the most subliminal, if not unintentional, message in Kenji Jasper’s latest offering, Dakota Grand (Broadway Books: ISBN- 0767910141). The pen name of yet another young man searching for himself in the world, Dakota Grand embarks upon his on personal northern migration extracting himself from Atlanta and transplanting in New York City. It is here where Grand plans to make his mark as a writer’a hip hop writer no less.
Ambition gives way to frustration which gives way to desperation as we see Dakota performing the ever-popular poor-man hustle in the writer-eat-writer world of New York publishing. Surrounded by a compact and diverse cabal of artists friends, Dakota survives by attending CD release parties where the food is scarce, drinks are free, and the women are costly.
As Dakota lives his private life of; boy meets girl--boy sleeps with girl--boy creeps out of bed before girl wakes in the morning, he is smitten by a foreign girl bearing a southern name--Carolina. She is Dakota's first real guide to the road of straight and narrow for she does not tolerate smoking, drugs, or lying.
A popular magazine finally assigns Dakota his first cover story, an expose’ of his favorite rap group. Upon the cover story's publication Dakota learns a painful lesson of being a true journalist’a physically painful lesson.
When Dakota is accosted and assaulted by thugs of the very same hip-hop community which he passionately writes about, his first instinct is to strike back. Despite warnings from associate and friends, Dakota plots a retaliation for the sake of hip-hop journalists.
In this swift-paced and engaging novel , we are compelled to ask questions of environments we may not be familiar with. Questions such as:
-Why would an intelligent and gifted young black man choose to forgo rationale thinking and settle confrontations with street mentality?
-What is it about the creed of urban life that sometimes obstructs good judgment?
-What drives a black man, on the verge of a prosperous career and loving relationship, into the hellish depths of moronic thinking?
These are important questions because although Dakota Grand is a fictional character, he lives and breathes before us every day. Dakota Grand plays in the NBA and gets arrested for selling drugs. Dakota Grand plays in the NFL and gets arrested for domestic abuse. Dakota Grand works in Corporate America and gets terminated for embezzlement.
In the psyche of this character, are small intricate pieces of the puzzle that explain why black men place themselves in detrimental circumstance for absolutely no good reason. Those puzzle pieces are also keys to the riddle of implementing solutions to the reoccurring problems faced by armies of young black men.
Passionately told through first-person point-of view, Dakota Grand is a behind the scenes look at the writers that glorify hip-hop artists. Jasper sprinkles a humanitarian landscape throughout the book. Each trip on New York's subway system is littered with vivid descriptions of people simply trying to sustain themselves. Each account, in just a few short words, reveals the individual's plight and identifies the common link of many New Yorkers’survival.
Flawed only by an ending that leaves a bit much to be desired and a climax over too soon to be enjoyed, Dakota Grand is another welcomed addition to the simplistic reading which masterfully examines a very complex people.