A girl and her mother seek empowerment in the wake of several kinds of gendered violence.
After a boy named Jacob sexually assaults Izzy at a party, she feels further traumatized by her inability to talk through the events with those closest to her. Her best friend, Grace, is distracted by a honeymoon period with her first girlfriend, and Izzy’s controlling, abusive stepfather, Daniel, isolates her from her struggling mother. Soon Jacob uses nude photos to blackmail Izzy, and Daniel begins crossing more and more boundaries with her. Her mother seeks help at a women’s refuge, where Izzy hopes to find respite from Jacob’s harassment and her friends’ willful misunderstanding; however, she soon learns that the past can catch up with her all too easily. A new love for rowing and a fresh love interest give Izzy hope, but the crux of the story stays in the family when Izzy has a climactic confrontation with the villainous Daniel. While Izzy’s story touches on prescient subjects, the simplistic characterization and writing style feel condescending rather than empathetic. In an unfortunately common trope, the narration blames Grace, who is black and the sole major character of color, for prioritizing herself and her queer romance over caretaking for white Izzy.
A too-simple take on painful themes; savvy readers deserve more depth.
Carrick (Melanie, 1996, etc.) sensitively explores the pain of a parent’s death through the eyes, feelings, and voice of a nine-year-old boy whose world turns upside down when his father becomes terminally ill with cancer. Through a fictional reminiscence, the story explores many of the issues common to children whose parents are ill—loss of control, changes in physical appearance and mental ability, upsets in daily routine, experiences of guilt and anger, the reaction of friends, and, most of all, a fear of the unknown. Although the book suffers from a pat ending and the black-and-white sketches emphasize the bleakness of the topic, this title is a notch above pure bibliotherapy and will fill a special niche for children struggling to deal with the trauma of parental sickness and death. (Fiction. 7-10)
Set in Texas in the 1960s, this YA novel teaches tolerance through the experiences of its young protagonist and narrator, “Tops” Parsley.
In his short debut novel, writer Parker gives us Tops; his friends Mickey Jackson, Joe Ellis, and Rex Johnson; and Shaky Man, named for his inherited palsy. The story—but for the court scenes in Waco—takes place in the idyllic town of Tonkaway on Tonkaway Creek. The boys are crazy for baseball and other sports; Sunday means church, etc.—but there is a skunk in this woodpile. Two, in fact. One is the intolerance shown to Shaky Man, whom the kids have made into a boogeyman who lives alone and reputedly starves his dogs and eats children (!). Shaky Man is in fact poor material for an ogre or even a curmudgeon. He is a man with a tragic past who welcomes kids rather than eating them. The other, more serious, issue is Mickey’s African-American skin. Again, most of the characters haven’t a prejudiced bone in their bodies, but there are those—“knuckleheads” Tops’ dad calls them—who are not so enlightened. This comes to a head when Mickey’s dad, a janitor at Baylor, discovers the body of a murdered professor and of course becomes the prime suspect. Things look really grim until Shaky Man, who is really Dr. Walter Boone, a retired doctor with a forensic specialty, testifies for the defense. A hung jury saves Leonard Jackson until the real culprit is found and convicted. Some young readers may be moved by the book, the period touches (e.g., Star Trek and Wild Kingdom on the TV) are fun (although Mr. Spock is mistakenly given a doctor’s title), and Tops is well-drawn. But it’s borderline incredible that the kids could make a boogeyman out of Dr. Boone (see above), and as to the trial of Mickey’s father, in the Texas of 60 years ago, sadly, he would more likely have been railroaded than exonerated.