Last Summer on State Street: A Novel (Hardcover)
Named a Best Book of Summer by Good Housekeeping, Chicago Magazine, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, Veranda, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, and more!
For fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Brit Bennett, a striking coming-of-age debut about friendship, community, and resilience, set in the housing projects of Chicago during one life-changing summer.
"Toya Wolfe is a storyteller of the highest order. Last Summer on State Street is a stunning debut."—Rebecca Makkai, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Believers
Even when we lose it all, we find the strength to rebuild.
Felicia “Fe Fe” Stevens is living with her vigilantly loving mother and older teenaged brother, whom she adores, in building 4950 of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes. It’s the summer of 1999, and her high-rise is next in line to be torn down by the Chicago Housing Authority. She, with the devout Precious Brown and Stacia Buchanan, daughter of a Gangster Disciple Queen-Pin, form a tentative trio and, for a brief moment, carve out for themselves a simple life of Double Dutch and innocence. But when Fe Fe welcomes a mysterious new friend, Tonya, into their fold, the dynamics shift, upending the lives of all four girls.
As their beloved neighborhood falls down around them, so too do their friendships and the structures of the four girls’ families. Fe Fe must make the painful decision of whom she can trust and whom she must let go. Decades later, as she remembers that fateful summer—just before her home was demolished, her life uprooted, and community forever changed—Fe Fe tries to make sense of the grief and fraught bonds that still haunt her and attempts to reclaim the love that never left.
Profound, reverent, and uplifting, Last Summer on State Street explores the risk of connection against the backdrop of racist institutions, the restorative power of knowing and claiming one’s own past, and those defining relationships which form the heartbeat of our lives. Interweaving moments of reckoning and sustaining grace, debut author Toya Wolfe has crafted an era-defining story of finding a home — both in one’s history and in one’s self.
Toya Wolfe grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago’s South Side. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. Her writing has appeared in African Voices, Chicago Journal, Chicago Reader, Hair Trigger 27, and WarpLand. She is the recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston-Bessie Head Fiction Award, the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation Short Story Competition, and the Betty Shifflet/John Schultz Short Story Award. She currently resides in Chicago. Last Summer on State Street is her debut novel.
"[A] powerful novel.... Tragic, hopeful, brimming with love, Wolfe’s debut is a remarkable achievement.” — New York Times Book Review
“First-time novelist Wolfe writes with lacerating precision and authenticity…. In a fictional counterpart to Dawn Turner’s memoir, Three Girls from Bronzeville, Wolfe’s deeply compelling characters, sharply wrought settings, and tightly choreographed plot create a concentrated, significant, and unforgettable tale of family, home, racism, trauma, compassion, and transcendence.” — Booklist (starred review)
“Wolfe’s arresting and atmospheric narrative comes fully realized. This is a gut punch.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Wolfe has written a bittersweet coming-of-age novel set in building 4950 [of the Robert Taylor Homes] in the summer of 1999... A complex and compassionate look at the friends and families, relationships and resistance that existed in that long-gone but not forgotten time and place.” — Chicago Magazine
“A poignant look at growing up in Chicago public housing by a debut novelist who lived in one of the city's most notorious developments…. Wolfe has a wonderful ear for dialogue, deploying pitch-perfect vernacular and slang.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Toya Wolfe is a storyteller of the highest order—a wise and compassionate chronicler of girlhood, of Chicago, and of the things that make us human. Last Summer on State Street is a stunning debut." — Rebecca Makkai, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Believers
“Last Summer on State Street is a triumph, a beautiful ode to the humanity, complexity, and compassion of people in a community too often defined by pathologies. You will root for the brave and surefooted Felicia, Precious, Stacia, and Tonya, as well as their families—all striving amid the rubble. What a lovely debut told with warmth, grace, and a piercing affection.” — Dawn Turner, author of Three Girls from Bronzeville
"Last Summer on State Street is a love letter to girlhood, the tenuous bonds of friendship, and the places we call home. As a daughter of Chicago's South Side, this novel took me inside a community I just passed by, but didn't truly see. Wolfe dazzles in this intimate portrait of race, grief, and the times in our lives that shape who we become." — Nancy Johnson, author of The Kindest Lie
“[A] thoughtful snapshot of the end of public housing high-rises in Chicago.” — Chicago Tribune
“Last Summer on State Street is a beautifully observed portrait of family and female friendship. Toya Wolfe is a marvelous writer; her deft storytelling and keen understanding makes her debut novel a great pleasure to read.” — Audrey Niffenegger, New York Times bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife
“[R]eaders who enjoyed Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street will fall in love with this book…. Racism, the power of our own histories, and the regrets that shape our futures are all on gorgeous display in Toya Wolfe’s Last Summer on State Street.” — Manhattan Book Review
“Last Summer on State Street is an ode to Black girls who are often forgotten. Toya Wolfe tells a compelling, warm, and funny story about a group of girls growing up in a Chicago public housing development. Wolfe delves into their lives with tenderness and care. Despite how outsiders may see their community, Wolfe lets us in to see the girls’ innocence—and their struggles.” — Natalie Y. Moore, author of The Billboard
“I can’t stop thinking of Toya Wolfe’s novel Last Summer on State Street. Filled with both tenderness and tragedy, this moving tale of friendship and family pulls us into a corner of America too long neglected and scorned. Wolfe writes with such grace and such restraint, I felt like I was sitting on the front porch listening to a story told by a friend. What a spectacular debut.” — Alex Kotlowitz, author of An American Summer