Top positive review
Difficult but Important
Reviewed in the United States on September 13, 2020
Overall rating: 4/5
“Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.”
Welcome to the unforgettable story of Della, a ten-year-old girl, and her sixteen-year-old sister Suki. You should know up front that this is not a blissful tale of childhood. It’s raw and real and explores the gritty reality of children who are forgotten, mistreated and abused. While this is considered a middle grade novel, it will not be appropriate for all children of that age.
The beginning of the novel finds these inseparable sisters in foster care. Their mother was incarcerated years before after blowing up a motel room while cooking meth. Since then, they have been in the custody of their mother’s boyfriend, Clifton. As the story unfolds, we learn that the girls have largely been raising themselves while Clifton spends most of the week working as a long-haul truck driver. It’s what he does to Suki when he is home – and what he tries to do to Della – that land the children in the care of the very no-nonsense and plainspoken foster mother Francine and preparing to testify in Clifton’s trial. Within the safety and shelter of Francine’s home, they begin processing the trauma they’ve endured, and they soon discover the power of seeking help and speaking up even when they fear no one is listening.
Not every middle grade student is going to be ready for this book. As an adult, I’m not sure I was ready for this book. It addresses the very real trauma of childhood sexual abuse. In fact, there will be many parents who will be angered that this book is marketed to middle grade. As a parent, I sympathize. I would not have had my children read this book as middle graders. However – and I can’t stress this strongly enough – there are young readers out there who need this book.
At one point in the novel, Della is told that there are children who have never experienced hunger or poverty or abuse or addiction or homelessness. She is staggered by this realization and simply can’t imagine a life so privileged. This was eye-opening for me, and it was at this point that I understood why I wouldn’t have handed this book to my kids. Because it wasn’t written for them. I wanted to protect them from the horror of that kind of knowledge – and I still would. But the fact is that some kids – many kids – simply don’t have that luxury. These children need to know they are not alone. They need a character who is like them, and they need to see her hurt and cry and be brave and strong. They need to see her heartbreak and her laughter and her tears and her hope. Della is that character, and this is that book.
This is a middle grade book about two young girls living with the aftermath of sexual abuse. It’s not an easy read – and with this subject matter, it shouldn’t be.
I love Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s middle grade novels. I felt that this one was written with a great deal of sensitivity and with age-appropriate treatment of truly difficult topics. I would not recommend that parents hand it to children without first pre-reading it. At the same time, I hope with all my heart that it finds its way to those hurting readers who need it.