After his brother is shot execution style, a Caribbean teenager decides to investigate and clear his name in this YA novel.
On Barberry Hill, St. Kitts, social and economic differences are echoed in its topography. The mansions of the rich sit on the hilltop, while down below are shacks housing poor people and drug dealers. In between but closer to the top, 14-year-old Jaden lives with his brother, Rashid, who’s 16; his father; and grandmother. His mother has been working in America since he was 6, sending home barrels of gifts but never visiting. That is, until she has to return for Rashid’s funeral. He was shot in the head right outside his house in what everyone, including the police and Rashid’s father, assumes is gang violence. But Jaden doesn’t buy it. Rashid must have been unlucky. Seeing his mother again stirs up conflicting emotions in Jaden. With the help of his best friends, MJ and Stein, Jaden decides to prove his brother’s innocence of gang ties and restore his reputation. The friends risk beatings or worse to find the truth—which holds some surprises. Ottley-Mitchell (The Complete Collection of Chee Chee’s Adventures, 2017, etc.) has written other children’s and young-adult books set in the Caribbean, and she evokes her setting well, an unusual one for YA literature. She doesn’t shy away from the sometimes-harsh realities of Jaden’s St. Kitts, where gangs rule the school and seemingly “every day you heard about somebody getting gunned down.” She skillfully captures Jaden’s grief, anxiety, feelings of abandonment, fear, and other stormy emotions, as well as the rhythms of friendship and dialogue among teenage boys. Problems include repetition (Jaden’s mission gets stated too often for a short book) and a weak, clichéd motivation for Jaden’s father’s apparent lack of interest in pursuing Rashid’s murder.
Fresh, well-described setting and vibrant characters, with one or two missteps.