Written in poignantly poetic tanka verse, Grimes’ newest follows a young black boy searching for his own unique voice, lost among his father’s wishes and society’s mischaracterizations.
This compassionate, courageous, and hopeful novel explores the constraints placed on black male identity and the corresponding pains and struggles that follow when a young black boy must confront these realities both at home and in school. Garvey has a complicated yet caring relationship with his family: “Mom’s got a talent / for origami, but she / can’t fold me into / the jock Dad wants me to be.” Garvey copes with his father’s disappointment by binge eating and, more positively, escaping into science fiction. Readers see the deep, loving friendship Garvey shares with classmate Joe, the only one with whom he can share his secrets. Through his father’s lament that Garvey isn’t “normal” and other clues, Grimes leaves the possibility open for readers to see Garvey as a young gay boy, which reinforces the connection the novel establishes between him and Luther Vandross, who struggled with both body image and being closeted. Garvey eventually finds himself in the school chorus. “I feel unwritten / like that song says… / I can’t wait to sing my song, / croon my own untold story.”
This graceful novel risks stretching beyond easy, reductive constructions of black male coming-of-age stories and delivers a sincere, authentic story of resilience and finding one’s voice. (Verse novel. 8-13)