Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

I rarely see juvenile fiction books with young African-American males on the cover so needless to say I was intrigued by this title. The main character Jarrett is a rising seventh grader from Newark, New Jersey who lives with his mom, a Guyanese immigrant. His mom is a foster mom who works with social services to take n kids for varying lengths of time. This is how Kevon and his little sister Treasure come into their lives. Kevon's father went missing and so the two are placed with Jarrett's family for the time being.

Jarrett is not pleased with this arrangement since Kevon has to share his bunk bed and his living space. Kevon also ends up going to the rec center with Jarrett since it is summer time and there is a lot going on there. Jarrett is also dealing with some health issues as well as some academic difficulties (he has to go to summer school for remedial help). He is a budding Romeo as well even though he can't muster up the courage to tell his friend Caprice that he likes her.  The boys are two headstrong characters so it doesn't take long for them to butt heads over various issues.

Even though the book is set in Newark it isn't necessarily about the harsh reality of urban life, at least not for Jarrett. He and his mom live a relatively comfortable life and he is exposed to a lot more things than Kevon (at one point in the book Kevon mentions never having tried tacos). The book explores a bunch of issues some more in depth than others. Jarrett learns for example that his best friend is gay but he is ok with this. There are issues about mental health, coping with grief and anger, as well as proper conduct as an African-American male when stopped by the police.

The author also introduces elements of Caribbean culture and briefly mentions the generational and cultural differences that exist between Caribbean immigrants and their offspring who are often more finely attuned to the nuances of American culture.

One would think that all these issues would bog the book down but Booth skillfully weaves short but powerful vignettes into the narrative. Perhaps more importantly for me was the role of positive male  role models for the next generation of African-American youth I especially liked the fact that she made a passing reference in the book to stepping and the role of such in the black community.

This is an excellent read and I recommend it for readers aged 11+. Even though the main characters are of color the issues are universal and timely. There is no happy ending to this story and we know that both boys will eventually argue about one issue or the other the beauty lies in the fact that they can admit their wrongs and move on peacefully- a good life lesson. I am looking forward to more reads from this author.

This review is also on my website here.



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