Rapp’s (The Copper Elephant, 1999, etc.) bleakest tragicomedy yet piles physical abuse, sexual abuse, and vicious peer harassment onto and into the head of a broken 11-year-old. Readers first meet Blacky Brown stumbling naked through the woods, having just been molested by Al Johnson, his mother’s latest boyfriend. His own family, from which his cruel father has long departed, features a clinically depressed, eczema-ridden mother, drug- and alcohol-abusing big sister Shay, and, to throw everyone else’s dysfunction into sharper relief, a genius-level little brother completely focused on keeping his head down. After it becomes clear that Al is just going to get a slap on the wrist from the authorities, Blacky makes the mistake of coming clean to a supposed friend, and becomes an instant outsider at school, subjected to significant gestures and murmurs of “skank” that escalate into attacks with red paint, and finally an after-school ambush. Blacky observes his own increasingly erratic thoughts and behavior (some of which, in another context, would be funny) with the same numb, present-tense detachment with which he describes, in precise detail, the violence done to him by Al and others. What allies he does manage to gather wind up either moving out or being taken away—leaving him alone with the gun he buys from an acquaintance of Shay’s for a “hand-job” and loose change. In the end, Blacky uses the gun to frighten off his attackers, but then discards it as just another dead end, and is last seen charging off into the woods again, toward an ambiguous, perhaps short, future. Blacky’s quixotic innocence survives it all, but Rapp has so stacked the odds against him that readers will wonder whether that’s going to be enough to carry him through. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: April 15, 2002

ISBN: 1-886910-72-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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This story is necessary. This story is important.

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Small but mighty necessary reading.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

A miniature manifesto for radical queer acceptance that weaves together the personal and political.

Eli, a cis gay white Jewish man, uses his own identities and experiences to frame and acknowledge his perspective. In the prologue, Eli compares the global Jewish community to the global queer community, noting, “We don’t always get it right, but the importance of showing up for other Jews has been carved into the DNA of what it means to be Jewish. It is my dream that queer people develop the same ideology—what I like to call a Global Queer Conscience.” He details his own isolating experiences as a queer adolescent in an Orthodox Jewish community and reflects on how he and so many others would have benefitted from a robust and supportive queer community. The rest of the book outlines 10 principles based on the belief that an expectation of mutual care and concern across various other dimensions of identity can be integrated into queer community values. Eli’s prose is clear, straightforward, and powerful. While he makes some choices that may be divisive—for example, using the initialism LGBTQIAA+ which includes “ally”—he always makes clear those are his personal choices and that the language is ever evolving.

Small but mighty necessary reading. (resources) (Nonfiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09368-9

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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