Middle-grade fiction often focuses broadly on characters learning about how their worlds really work, but for kids who face racism or prejudice, the way the world
works can be quite ugly. In Karen English’s It All Comes Down to This (review adjacent),
Sophie, a light-skinned black girl living a relatively privileged life in a middle-class neighborhood in L.A. in the 1960s, wakes up to the realities facing the black community when
her sister falls for a darker-skinned man and the Watts riots erupt nearby. The titles below
also follow characters facing pervasive racism and prejudice as their eyes are opened to
the inequities inherent in American culture, and although these books all take place in
the past, their themes are still pertinent today.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings. By Margarita Engle. Illus. by
Edel Rodriguez. 2015. Atheneum, $17.99 (9781481435222). Gr. 5–8.
Although Engle’s memoir in verse isn’t fiction, it perfectly fits this
theme. In her moving poems, she reflects on her childhood and evocatively addresses weighty issues, such as being bicultural, the challenge of
moving homes and schools, living through the Cuban Revolution, and negotiating an identity that is being torn apart by politics and social attitudes
at complete odds with her feelings and experiences.
Finding My Place. By Traci L. Jones. 2010. Farrar, $16.99
(9780374335731). Gr. 5–8.
When Tiphanie starts ninth grade at a predominantly white high school
in 1975, her parents, veterans of the civil rights movement, give her a
speech about “upholding the race.” At first, she sees racism everywhere,
but as she engages with her new classmates—while still seeing racism—
she also sees people who are curious and kind.
Inside Out and Back Again. By Thanhà Lai. 2011. Harper, $15.99
(9780061962783). Gr. 4–8.
After Hà, her mother, and brothers flee Vietnam, they eventually land
in Alabama in 1975, where she finds refuge but also cruel rejection. In
short, free-verse poems, Hà describes her struggle to adjust to a new
culture and language as well as her anguish of being an outcast. And
even as she begins to shape a new life, there is no easy comfort: her
father is still gone.
One Crazy Summer. By Rita Williams-Garcia. 2010. Amistad, $15.99
(9780060760885). Gr. 4–7.
When Delphine and her sisters are sent to Oakland in 1968 to visit
their estranged mother, Cecile, it’s nothing like they expect. Their mother
is distant and prickly, and they spend most of their time at a Black
Panther–run community center. Strong-willed, responsible Delphine
stirringly narrates this vibrant novel about the subtle ways political movements affect personal lives as well as the universal story of children discovering a
reluctant parent’s love.
The Rock and the River. By Kekla Magoon. 2009. Aladdin, $15.99 (9781416975823).
In Chicago in 1968, Sam, 14, obeys his father, who’s passionately committed to non-violent protest. But after King is assassinated and Sam witnesses police brutality, he
joins the Black Panthers, whose revolutionary platform is the opposite of his father’s.
This taut, eloquent novel captures the seething fury and desperation over the daily
discrimination that drove the oppressed to fight back as well as Sam’s loving, intense
WAKING UP TO PREJUDICE
BY SARAH HUNTER
It All Comes Down to This.
By Karen English.
July 2017. 368p. Clarion, $16.99 (9780544839571); e-book, $16.99
(9781328695710). Gr. 5–8.
Bookish, quiet Sophie lives in a mostly white, middle-
class neighborhood in L.A. with her class-conscious parents
and older sister, Lily, who can pass for white. Life seems
fairly easy, though she’s certainly no stranger to the cruelty
of racism. But in the summer of 1965, as the Watts riots
fill the news, several changes shake up Sophie’s world: she
finds evidence of her father’s infidelity;
her sister starts dating a darker-skinned
man, whose experience of being black
is much different from theirs; and she
personally sees the unfairness of wide-
spread racism when she auditions for
a play at the community center. Amid
classic middle-grade topics, English
deftly weaves a vivid, nuanced story
about the complexity of black identity and the broad
implications of prejudice. The Watts riots appear mostly
in the background, but English stirringly highlights how
black anger isn’t localized solely among victims of police
brutality. Rather, rage simmers everywhere. Even Sophie,
whose most aggressive move is defiantly shouldering past
a white girl in the library, thinks to herself, “Gosh, that
was a wonderful feeling—being colored and liking to
fight.” Through Sophie’s first-person narrative, readers
will gain an insight into her struggle to puzzle out her
identity, particularly when what she knows about herself
is at odds with the expectations and assumptions of the
various communities she inhabits. Thoughtful and well
wrought, this novel is compassionate, pointed, and em-
powering. —Sarah Hunter
of an English lord and a woman from Bar-
bados. Monty, of course, is hopelessly in love
with him and plans to make the most of the
tour, until his distinct flair for trouble gets
in the way. Several miscommunications, one
truly terrible party, and an act of petty thiev-
ery later, Monty and Percy find themselves
on the run across Europe with Monty’s sis-
ter Felicity in tow. Tongue-in-cheek, wildly
entertaining, and anachronistic in only the
most delightful ways, this is a gleeful romp
through history. Monty is a hero worthy of
Oscar Wilde (“What’s the use of tempta-
tions if we don’t yield to them?”), his sister
Felicity is a practical, science-inclined won-
der, and his relationship with Percy sings.
Modern-minded as this may be, Lee has
clearly done invaluable research on society,
politics, and the reality of same-sex relationships in the eighteenth century. Add in a
handful of pirates and a touch of alchemy
for an adventure that’s an undeniable joy.
Now I Rise.
By Kiersten White.
June 2017. 496p. Delacorte, $18.99 (9780553522358);
lib. ed., $21.99 (9780553522365); e-book, $18.99
(9780553522372). Gr. 9–12.
White’s captivating sequel to And I
Darken (2016) revolves around three indi-
From the cover of Inside Out and Back Again.