Yasmin Shiraz on Bringing Retaliation to Life

Teen Parent Book Club Update

On Monday, Yasmin Shiraz visited the Teen Parent Book Club at the Anacostia New Heights Center. After a few weeks of reading her novel Retaliation, students were ready and excited to ask questions about Ms. Shiraz’s story of violence in a D.C. community.

Retaliation follows a popular high school student who is attacked in her southeast D.C. neighborhood. The novel shifts perspective frequently, offering a glimpse into the lives of the student’s mother, her former gang-member brother, her boyfriend, and her attackers.

“I thought that this story was real!” one student exclaimed as soon as Ms. Shiraz asked for questions. She was referring to earlier discussions, during which the students noted familiar places: Barry Farms, 23rd Street, and a high school loosely based on Anacostia. Retaliation is full of people, settings, and situations that were so believable that the students began to feel like they knew the characters, had walked the streets, and had witnessed the violent incident that kicks off the novel.

In fact, Ms. Shiraz drew inspiration from the novel from her experience discussing community violence with students in eighth grade at a D.C. Public Middle School.  She noticed that the students felt drawn into the violence in their community, like they had no choice but to fight fire with fire.

And it is that attitude of meeting violence with further violence that is at the heart of Retaliation. Without giving too much away, the ending shows each of the characters dealing with the consequences of their various reactions to that original violent incident. It also leaves you on a bit of a cliffhanger, wanting to know what comes next. After weeks of reading the novel, learning about all of the characters, the students were eager for a conclusion.  And they may be in luck – Ms. Shiraz has plans to write a sequel.

In the mean time Ms. Shiraz is developing a film version of Retaliation. She has already produced a short film called They Call Me Dae, following one of the attackers in the days preceding the act of violence at the beginning of Retaliation.

“I want to show young people that are like you, and communities that are like this,” Ms. Shiraz told the students. “How often do you see that in Hollywood?”

The Teen Parent Book Club is a partnership between the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, the New Heights Teen Parents Center and DC Public Schools. The group meets bi-weekly to discuss books by local, contemporary authors. Read about previous sessions here, here, and here.