I’m a huge Jewell Parker Rhodes fan, and in middle-grade literature, she has no equal. She is uncanny at tackling major systemic issues that are not only age-appropriate but widely appealing, and also interesting to read about. I was excited to hear she had a new book out, and I quickly read it, as well.
In Black Brother, Black Brother we meet Donte and Trey, two biracial brothers in an integrated family. Their dad is White, their mom is Black. Trey looks like their father, Donte like their mother. They move from New York City to suburban Massachusetts and attend a private school. Here, Donte’s problems begin. He is immediately bullied and treated like an outcast, whereas Trey is popular and treated well. Donte is constantly being accused of wrongdoing, and the novel begins when he is sent to the principal’s office and arrested for allegedly throwing a pencil he did not throw. His bully, Alan (the star of the fencing team), continually taunts him. Donte decides to learn how to fence and make the team so he can beat Alan at his own game. He joins a boys-and-girls club and meets a coach who is a former Olympian. And along the way, he learns more about himself.
This book is compelling and gripping, because it transcends its initial premise by showing a true growth mindset. Donte is a really great character to spend time with. The book is also a good way to introduce issues of systemic racism and colorism, because it is deftly handled while also telling a genuinely good story. I highly recommend this and other Rhodes novels.