Hard Knocks High: Darkskin and Redbones by Kevin Brown

“You so black…” is how the joke begins.  When the joke ends, laughter, teasing and bullying follows.  Not to mention getting dumped by her then boyfriend, Tafari, in favor of Malikah, the redbone goddess that all the boys worship.  From that point on, Mahogany despises the dark brown skin she’s in.  With her self-esteem low and her self-hatred high, Mahogany meets a charming corner thug named Makai.

Mahogany’s attraction to Makai is more than just the idea of being the girlfriend of a thug that she often day-dreams about and immortalizes on her drawing pad.  It’s the freedom he offers.   Freedom from feeling ugly and unwanted.  Freedom from being sheltered from the street life.  But with freedom, comes a price.

Soon, Makai’s true intentions are revealed and Mahogany has a choice to make.  Will Mahogany choose Makai or her family?  Her new friend, Karisma, or her morals?  Will she get revenge on Malikah for stealing her man?  The wrong choice can mean the end of the life as Mahogany knows it.

 

Excerpt:

 

There were words at the bottom of the page but her eyes were too watery to make them out.  Mahogany cleared the mist away with the back of her hand but just as quickly, her vision was blurry again, similar to a car windshield during a rain storm.  Her hands were working like windshield wipers, back and forth across her eyes, leaving just seconds to scan the words below the sketch. In capital letters, it read: SOY SAUCE.  She turned off the wipers.  Tears completely blinded Mahogany’s vision.  She lost complete control of herself and her feelings crashed and shattered inside.  Mahogany’s fingers went limp and the paper slipped to the desk.  Her cupped hands held her face inches away from her wooden desk.

“Yo, forget them,” Vaughn said, leaning over and placing his hand on Mahogany’s shoulder.  “They ain’t got nothin’ on you.  They jealous.”  Through quiet sobs, Mahogany heard snickering coming from the back of the classroom.  She didn’t need to turn around to know that it was Nevaeh and Nyla laughing at her.  In fact, it felt like half the class was laughing at her.  Mahogany looked over the wreck-of-herself and felt overwhelmed by the crushing weight of sadness.

“May I go to the rest room, please,” Mahogany asked, raising her hand in the air.

“Yes, just make sure you sign out,” Mrs. Mourningway answered.  “Before you go, I have some good news to share with you.”  Mrs. Mourningway met Mahogany at the door just before she left the classroom.  “I was going to tell you at the end of class, but I mind as well tell you now.  I entered one of your drawings into the tapestry exhibit for youth art month coming up in the spring,” Mrs. Mourningway beamed.

“Thank you, Mrs. Mourningway.” Mahogany said, barely above a whisper.

“Thank you?  That’s it!  Where’s the excitement?”

“I am excited.  It’s just that um-”

“Do you know that I have a total of one hundred and thirty students in all of my art classes.  And out of those one hundred and thirty students, I felt that only you and three other students had paintings that were worthy enough to be displayed in the art exhibit.  Your art work will be displayed amongst the best youth artists from high schools all across New York City.  You should be ecstatic!”

“I am…it’s just that-” Mahogany paused to swallow the lump forming in her throat.  She glanced at Nevaeh and Nyla who were still laughing and pointing at her and decided she couldn’t take it anymore.  “-I gotta go Mrs. Mourningway.”  Mahogany hurried in to the girls’ restroom, locked herself in one of the stalls and wept into her open palms until she was all cried out.  Slowly, anger seeped into Mahogany’s body as if entering through her pores, starting at her fingers.  A shade of crimson red replaced the mist in her eyes but still, she could barely see.  Pictures of Nevaeh and Nyla’s smug faces developed in the dark rooms of her mind and flashed before her eyes.  Her fingers balled into tight fists and fired from her side, punching through images of Nevaeh and Nyla’s faces and slamming into the soft metal stall door.  Grunts and yelps escaped through her tightly pursed lips with each blow.  Thirty seconds later, she fell into a seat on top of the toilet after anger had been completely drained from her body through her fists.  Mahogany examined her knuckles which mirrored her ego: scraped, bruised and bloodied.  She made herself comfortable and didn’t have any intention on returning to class.  If she had her way, she would lock herself in that restroom stall forever.

I was born in the Bronx, New York, fully immersed in the culture of Hip Hop.  As a true hip-hop-head of the 80’s, I tried my hand at breakdancing, tagging graffiti on project buildings, beatboxing, scratching records and making pause tapes.  But it was the inner music the rhymes made that lit a flame of passion within and influenced me to write.

As a teenager, I was addicted to crafting intricate rhyme schemes. But as I matured, the burning desire to condense all of my thoughts into rhyme-form began to wane and a new flame of passion was lit; one of a story teller.  I went from budding emcee to budding novelist instantly.

Once I discovered my true calling, I created the Hard Knocks High series for reluctant readers and at-risk-teens.  As a former reluctant reader, I write books that I would have enjoyed when I was a teen.  Hard Knocks High, where the classroom and the streets collide, is a young adult series that features relatable characters and realistic stories laced with life lessons.

 

Get to know Kevin:

 

What has been your biggest achievement as an author?

One of my biggest achievements was when the In the Margins Book Award Committee selected my first book, Project Windows, as one of the top 10 young adult books in 2016.  The In the Margins Book Committee strives to find the best books for youth who live in poverty, on the streets in custody -or all three.  Another big achievement for me was getting a feature article in the Gwinnett Daily Post for a book talk I did at a high school.  After the book talk, the media specialist at the high school informed me that my two books, Project Windows and Darkskin and Redbones were the number 1 and number 2 checked out books in the school library.  Also, I’ve had a number of teachers reach out to tell me that they enjoyed the moral message and imagery of my books so much that they want to use them as a book study for their classroom.  I’ve also had some teen readers tell me how much they enjoy the books because they can relate to them.  It’s always great to here directly from the readers.

 

Where did the concept for Hard Knocks High come from?

Once I realized my true calling was writing young adult novels, and not adult novels, the ideas just started flowing.  I knew I wanted a way to tie all of my ideas together and I wanted a way to stand out and make it easier to be found.  At the time, young adult book series were popular like the Harry Potter series and the Twilight Saga.  But my stories were going to be more realistic, with real life situations and consequences.  I wanted to tell the stories of at-risk-teens from the projects that are forced to deal with the daily trials and tribulations of the streets and combine that with the issues of having to attend a low income school.  With that in mind, the first title I came up with was the school of hard knocks but I thought it was too long and too obvious.  So, I flipped it and titled it Hard Knocks High.

Tell us about your latest book: Darkskin and Redbones.

The second book is Darkskin and Redbones.  It’s the story of sixteen year old Mahogany Brown.  I recently released Darkskin and Redbones, the second book in the Hard Knocks High series, a novel which will appeal to teenage girls of color who find it difficult growing up in a world where color matters.  Mahogany Brown despises the dark brown skin she’s in after being the butt of a ‘you so black’ joke.  With her self-esteem low and her self-hatred high, Mahogany meets a charming corner thug named Makai.

Mahogany’s attraction to Makai is more than just the idea of being the girlfriend of a thug that she often day-dreams about and immortalizes on her drawing pad.  It’s the freedom he offers.   Freedom from feeling ugly and unwanted.  Freedom from being sheltered from the street life.  But with freedom, comes a price.

Soon, Makai’s true intentions are revealed and Mahogany has a choice to make.  Will Mahogany choose Makai or her family?  Her new friend, Karisma, or her morals?  Will she get revenge on Malikah for stealing her man?  The wrong choice can mean the end of the life as Mahogany knows it.

 

Who is Kevin Brown?

I am a father, a husband, a writer, a teacher, a mentor, a loner, an observer of life and a hip hop head.  I was born in the Bronx, New York, fully immersed in the culture of Hip Hop.  As a true hip-hop-head of the 80’s, I tried my hand at breakdancing, tagging graffiti on project buildings, beatboxing, scratching records and making pause tapes.  But it was the inner music the rhymes made that lit a flame of passion within and influenced me to write.    As a teenager, I was addicted to constructing intricate rhyme schemes. But as I matured, the burning desire to condense all of my thoughts into rhyme-form began to wane and a new flame of passion was lit; one of a story teller.  I went from budding emcee to budding novelist instantly. Once I discovered my true calling, I created the Hard Knocks High series for reluctant readers and at-risk-teens.  As a former reluctant reader, I write books that I would have enjoyed when I was a teen.  Hard Knocks High, where the classroom and the streets collide, is a young adult series that features relatable characters and realistic stories laced with life lessons.

 

Any message to your followers?

If you have a teenage son or daughter, or a niece, or nephew, the Hard Knocks High series are great books for them to read.  Each of my books have a positive message and many teachable moments.  If you are a teacher and or a mentor, Project Windows and Darkskin and Redbones are ideal book for classroom read-alouds or independent reading because of the relatable characters and story line as well as the similes, the imagery, the personification, and metaphors littered throughout the book.  I’m currently working on book number 3 in the Hard Knocks High series.

 

What do you want readers to take from the Hard Knocks High series?

When readers read Hard Knocks High, I want them to feel that the story is real and authentic.  I want readers who enjoy the written word to get a since of fulfillment from the imagery and the use of figurative language.  I want the readers to be able to relate to the characters.  Long after the readers put the book down, I still want some of the memorable scenes, the imagery, the conversations amongst the characters and the overall message of the book to still resonate.  I hope that it’s good enough for them to come back for the third installment.

 

 

*Tell us about the first book in the Hard Knocks High series?

Project Windows, the first book in the Hard Knocks High Series, is the story of sixteen-year-old, Tafari King, who struggles to live a double life.  In the eyes of his overprotective mom, Tafari is a sheltered, homebody who is only allowed out of the apartment to attend weekly bible study, church and school.  In the eyes of the streets, and his classmates, Tafari is one of the most feared young thugs in the Bronx and in the halls of Hard Knocks High.  Eventually, juggling the life of a thug and the life of a church- going-Christian becomes too much to bare and his street persona lands him in trouble.  He’s forced to attend an after school program for at risk teens.  The teacher of the program is not only Tafari’s English teacher, but is also a former OG from the streets who has already lived the struggle.  The teacher, Mr. Sekou, tries to school Tafari that the gang life is not the life he wants to lead.  That living for his future is more important than dying for his rep.  While Tafari weighs his options, an old enemy returns seeking revenge, while a new threat emerges and seeks to remove Tafari from the equation entirely.  With time running out, Tafari needs to make a choice before it’s too late.

 

Find the author & the book:

Twitter and instagram: @hardknockshigh

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