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Friday, December 27, 2019

Despite Saggy Middle, YA Novel a Compelling, Moving Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As Northern California's reigning middle-weight Brazillian jiu-jitsu champion, 16-year-old Katina "Kat" King is known for being as tough as steel.  When she becomes the victim of an attempted assault, it throws her, plaguing her with debilitating nightmares and panic attacks.  Although she's not one to run from her problems, Kat's single mother insists Kat needs a change of scenery.  She sends her to Boston to live with "Ms. Vee," a family friend who's originally from Sierra Leone.  As the mixed-race daughter of a white mother and a Black father (whom she's never met), Kat's used to getting strange looks—no one gives her a second glance when she's out with Ms. Vee, whose skin tone matches Kat's own.  For this reason and more, Kat feels safe and protected under the watchful eye of her frail caretaker.  So, when Ms. Vee encourages Kat to attend her church's youth group meeting, Kat reluctantly goes as a favor to the woman who has taken her in.  

Adopted from India by white parents, 18-year-old Robin Thornton understands what it means to get weird looks from strangers.  Although his parents have done what they can to help him connect with the land of his birth, he still struggles with his neither-here-nor-there identity.  When Robin meets Kat at youth group, he senses that beneath her prickly exterior lies a girl who just might get him better than anyone else ever has.  

Then the youth group's pastor announces he's heading up a service trip to Kolkata to help victims of human trafficking.  Both Kat and Robin see the trip as a life-changing opportunity.  Kat wants to empower women and children so they won't be victims again by teaching them martial arts moves.  Robin longs for answers that might be found at the Kolkata orphanage where he once lived.  As the two embark on the trip to India, they will journey closer—not just to a friendship that will sustain them both, but also to their honest, most true selves.

Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins is an engaging novel about identity, friendship, love, and strength in all its various forms.  The characters are sympathetic and likable.  Plotwise, the story is compelling, but it also gets wordy and overly long.  I got bored in the middle, which seems to go on and on and on. One of the things I really like about the story is how religion is woven into the story, showing that faith doesn't have to be weird or fanatical (as it's portrayed in so many novels), but can be a natural, positive part of life.  I also appreciate that it's a mostly clean novel, which is becoming more and more rare in the world of YA lit.  While I didn't end up loving Forward Me Back to You, overall it's an interesting, moving story that teaches some important lessons.  I liked it for the most part.


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Forward Me Back to You from the generous folks at Macmillan for the purpose of Cybils Award judging.  Thank you!

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