Can the Guardian and Britain’s CILIP Carnegie Children’s Book Awards be wrong?
Not that this lauded and nominated book by author Heathfield isn’t harrowing. It’s the 14-year–spanning story of June Kingston, a mixed-race black girl whose white stepmother, Kathleen, continually racially denigrates June and her dead mother, Loretta, who was black. It is a catalog of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse from Kathleen, abetted by June’s stepsister, Megan, and enabled by the obliviousness of June’s white father. And yes, June’s preteen friend and eventual boyfriend, Blister Wicks, a poor, creative white boy, unwaveringly supports her throughout. In chapters labeled “before” readers see the unrelenting misery of June’s life, while briefer, intermittent chapters labeled “after” take them to a time after an unspecified trauma. When that reveal comes, readers may well feel sucker-punched at its disingenuousness, as the author writes around the most obvious aspect of this story. June’s abuse at home, bullying and neglect at school, and what happens after are specifically misogynoirist, or anti–black female, thrown into high relief due to the lack of any other living characters of color in June’s story. This is a disservice to readers, especially considering such works and resources as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ava DuVernay’s 13th, and African American Policy Forum, a pro–Black-women-and-girls advocacy organization.
What’s left for readers from this lack of nuance is the glaring voyeurism. Interracial love—and racial silence—simply aren’t enough. (Fiction. 14-adult)