“And stay out of trouble.”

There they were, the oft-repeated departing instructions from parents and teachers, grandparents and big brothers. You heard those words all your life, over and over. Stay out of trouble, as if it was easy. Stay out of trouble, as if temptation wasn’t everywhere; as if anything fun ever came from being good.

As if it was possible.

In the new book “Two the Hard Way” by Travis Hunter (c.2010. Kensington Dafina $9.95 / $11.95 Canada. 265 pages), two brothers from Atlanta’s inner city don’t have to bother searching for trouble.

Trouble finds them all by itself.

Although 17-year-old Romeo Braxton looked up to his big brother, there was no way he was going to be like Kwame. That’s because Kwame was serving two years in prison for his involvement in a drug situation.

The thing is, everybody in the projects knew he was innocent. When Kwame’s friend, Wicked, asked for a favor and the cops showed up to find hidden bags of weed and white powder in the truck Kwame was driving, Kwame took the rap for his boy. He didn’t open his mouth, and he lost two years of his life for it. He wasn’t about to let Romeo follow in his footsteps.

And the boys’ grandmother wasn’t going to let it happen either. Nana raised those boys, when their mother, Pearl, couldn’t care for them any longer, and she expected good things from Kwame and Romeo.

Romeo had football coaches knocking at the door all the time and college was in his future. Kwame had a similar future before the arrest, but Nana knew he’d be fine once he got home.

But things were far from fine, and life in the inner city was hard for a young Black man. Living up to his name, Wicked tempted Kwame back into “the life,” although Kwame was disgusted by the idea of it all.

A girl in the ‘hood was going around telling everybody that she was pregnant with Romeo’s baby, which was possibly true.

Then Pearl started hanging around Nana’s house, and the real trouble began …
Got big plans for the weekend? Whatever they are, scrap them. Once you start this book, reading is all you’ll want to do.

Using true-life experiences from the kids he mentors, author Travis Hunter yanks you straight into the inner city where guns are easily gotten and used, rules are re-written or ignored altogether, and respect is viewed as currency. Although the violence in this book is largely intimated, there’s plenty of grit in the setting.

In the middle of this maelstrom, Hunter then introduces some of the most likable characters you’ll ever find: Boys who aren’t afraid to cry, show fear, or admit mistakes, and are willing to stand up for what’s right. This makes for a smooth novel that’s easy to slip into, and easy to stick with.

Meant for 15-to-18-year-olds, “Two the Hard Way” is definitely appropriate for anyone well past those ages. If you’re looking for a first-class story to read, you’ll have no trouble enjoying this one.