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Friday, December 11, 2020

MG Fencing Novel Unique and Enlightening

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At his old junior high, Donte Ellison didn't stand out at all.  Now living in a Boston suburb and attending a snobby prep school, he feels like the whole world has turned white.  Donte and his brother are both bi-racial, but Trey can "pass" with his lighter skin and straight hair—he's navigating their new school just fine while Donte is constantly bullied.  

When Donte's main aggressor takes things too far, Donte decides the only way to get the kid to back down is to beat him at his own game:  fencing.  With no idea how to play the sport, Donte seeks out an old Black janitor who was once a fencing champion.  Arden Jones reluctantly agrees to coach Donte, Trey, and a few other kids.  As they learn how to fence, their confidence grows, and their team becomes one that's at least worth a second glance.  Now that Donte's managed to channel his anger into mastering a new sport, can he prove himself to the bully?  Is revenge even important to him anymore?  

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes is about a lot of things:  racism, colorism, classism, the unfair targeting of Black males in the criminal justice system, standing up for one's self, etc.  None of those things make the book particularly unique.  Fencing, however, is a topic I've never read about before and certainly one that's never showed up in all my reading of books for children.  Using the sport as a backdrop gives Black Brother, Black Brother a fresh hook that makes the novel stand out.  Not only does Rhodes use it to show that Black kids can and do excel at traditionally "white" sports (check out The Peter Westbrook Foundation), but it's also a vehicle to demonstrate Donte's growth throughout the book.  Black Brother, Black Brother moves along at a steady pace, using a staccato narrative style that gives it an almost verse-like feel.  The characters are sympathetic and likable, the plot is compelling, and the story is thought-provoking and engrossing.  As mentioned before, it teaches some excellent lessons about empathy, fitting in, standing out, channeling anger into healthy pursuits, etc.  Black Brother, Black Brother should appeal especially to boys and reluctant readers as well as anyone else who wants an exciting, enlightening read.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier as well as the movie Life of a King.  Rhodes' books have also been compared to those by Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and racial slurs

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. This book sounds good! also love the cover.

  2. This book sounds good. I like the idea of fencing featuring in a book, especially since it's not a sport most students think about.


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