Author Kamilah Haywood showcases a deep knowledge and understanding of the Greater Toronto Area streets, Black youth issues, ‘priority’ neighbourhoods and the longing for acceptance in her first published fiction book, Concrete Jungle.

The narrative follows the lives of two impressionable kids that move from one ‘priority’ Toronto Community Housing neighbourhood to the next, overcoming different trials and tribulations as they search for more out of life.

Haywood vividly captures the journey of the young protagonists, Diamond of Roche Court, Mississauga and Treymayne of Rexdale, Toronto.

Diamond, a fifth grade student at the time, quickly gains friends within her new neighbourhood – one being Treymayne, a fourth grade student, attending the same elementary school.

Although Concrete Jungle focuses heavily on Mississauga, ON and the Greater Toronto Area, the topics that the author touches on expands above and beyond in a way that almost anyone can either relate to or understand.

Although young, both notice an area in Mississauga that is heavily populated with Black people and decide that it’s them against the world. The world being anyone who’s not from their ’hood.

Dealing with issues of being young and Black in a predominately white area, they find a sense of identity, belonging, love, guidance, acceptance and family in their new-formed gang, ‘Rotten Ridgeway Bloods’.

“We used a government name of a street in a low income community to identify ourselves,” explains Diamond to the reader, in Chapter 2, titled “New Beginnings”. “The system that pushed our families in these corners, we gave credit to by using their name as our identity.”

Although Concrete Jungle focuses heavily on Mississauga, ON and the Greater Toronto Area, the topics that the author touches on expands above and beyond in a way that almost anyone can either relate to or understand.

Haywood is able to capture a different side of the so-called ‘gangster’, ‘hoodlum’, ‘troublemaker’ and ‘criminal’, putting a face, soul and heart to people that are usually perceived in a negative way.

Haywood carefully blends the reality of everyday life that young people experience dealing with issues ranging from homosexuality, gun violence, employment and the educational system to drugs and alcohol into the characters’ journeys.

Concrete Jungle often takes the reader on a rollercoaster that tugs and pulls at heartstrings. The characters come to life, so immensely it’s easy to feel connected – as though they could be your friend, sibling, cousin or neighbour.

Haywood is able to capture a different side of the so-called ‘gangster’, ‘hoodlum’, ‘troublemaker’ and ‘criminal’, putting a face, soul and heart to people that are usually perceived in a negative way.

Definitely an easy read, and extremely captivating, Concrete Jungle is a refreshing read that humanizes a person, often stigmatized and stereotyped as villain and barbaric. Hopefully Haywood has a sequel in the works.