Book Review on Criminal Minded by Tracy Brown



They say you should read your favorite books at different stages in your life to see if you still love them, that statement holds true to this book. This was a reread for me, but the story was just as good this go 'round as the first. Criminal Minded is a coming-of-age story about five teenagers growing up in the streets of Staten Island, New York, often referred to as Shaolin and set in the '90s. Like most black kids growing up their tale is a colorful one. Lamin, Zion and Curtis are three kids that just want to help their families get out of the ghetto. Lucky and Olivia want the same thing, but their dreams and aspirations are attached to hustlers. "I want to take you on a journey through a decade that changed everybody's life. This is not just my story. It's the story of my whole crew's rise to prominence. And the ways in which we managed to fuck it all up."


Lamin and Oliva were fatherless, and the mother that God saw fit to give them was everything but a good one. With their mom looking for happiness in the company of different men, Lamin was left to help raise Olivia. To provide for his family he did what most young black men did in the '90s, sold drugs. Leaving high school in his rear-view mirror, Lamin is living the life that most young men dream of. His life gets even sweeter when he meets Lucky, a half Black, half Asian girl that seems to pick up his heart and put it in her pocket. "I had dealt with plenty of females, and there were some that I liked more than others. But there had never been anyone like Lucky. She was special." But with time, people grow, and things change. Manhood forces Lamin to make some difficult decisions, some good and others bad. In hindsight, I'm sure he would have done plenty of things differently.


Zion bounced around from foster home to foster home, but he found his family when he met Lamin. Their brotherhood was almost instantaneous, just like his attraction to Olivia. The only catch was, Lamin didn't want Zion anywhere near Olivia. "I asked Lamin why he was so against me getting with Zion. He told me that first off, Zion was his friend, and no man wants to think of his friend bonin' his little sister. Second of all, he said, 'Trust me, Olivia, men are dogs. They chase tail all day, and Zion is no different.' I didn't care what Lamin said. I wanted Zion to chase my tail." When an unexpected turn of events brings Zion and Olivia closer together, they throw caution to the wind and disregard everything Lamin has said. Oliva and Zion, along with readers find out if Lamin's advice was true, or if he was just tripping.


Curtis is Lamin and Olivia's first cousin, his mom is sisters with their mom. When a bullying attack goes wrong, Curtis is sent to jail until he's an adult. Instead of Curtis looking at his glass half full as opposed to half empty, he grows envious of his cousin's life. "But as time went by and Lamin was on the road from rags to riches, I started wishing I could switch places with him. Lamin was doin' it! He was doing all the shit I daydreamed about doing while I was locked in my cell with the dregs of society. I tried not to let it bother me that Lamin's life was so wonderful while my shit was fucked up. But no matter how I tried to shake it, I couldn't help being a little envious of my cousin." It turns out that jealousy really is a disease, because even after Curtis was given a piece of the pie, he still couldn't curve his jealous tendencies.


Rereading this book was refreshing. It gave me the nostalgia of the '90s that I desperately needed. Tracy Brown's pen is unmatched when it comes to the veterans in the urban lit game. It was if the characters leaped off the pages and took up residency in my head. She also has a knack for making you fall for some of the most flawed characters you will ever read about. Zion and Lamin weren't exactly book bae material, but there were certain parts in the story where they were giving daddy vibes. If you haven't read this book, I advise you to read it immediately. It's easily considered a timeless classic in urban literature. I enjoyed rereading this book so much it makes me want to go back and reread her entire catalog.

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