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FIGHTING WORDS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Kirkus Star


by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9848-1568-2
Publisher: Dial Books

Her beloved older sister has always kept Della safe; now that both are secure in foster care, why is Suki pushing her away?

Della, 10, barely remembers their mom. For five years after the meth-cooking incident that got her incarcerated in a Kansas penitentiary, the girls lived with her predatory boyfriend, Clifton. (He’s now in jail awaiting trial thanks to Suki’s quick thinking.) With their plainspoken foster mother, Francine, providing needed stability, Suki, 16, lands a part-time job, and Della makes friends. Far behind academically, Della’s advanced in reading predatory behavior. Her friends have been taught to ignore boys’ physical bullying, so they’re shocked when Della fights back at school. (She’s punished but undeterred.) Suki appears to thrive until she learns her “permanency plan” to achieve independence at 18 and gain custody of Della is unworkable. As Suki unravels, Francine’s urgent requests to arrange counseling for the girls go unheeded, with near-catastrophic results. The focus throughout, rightly, is on the aftermath of abuse, the content accessible to middle-grade readers but not graphically conveyed. Believable and immensely appealing, Suki, Francine, and especially Della (all are White, though Della is a bit “browner” than Suki) light up what might have been an unremittingly bleak story: Charting a path to wholeness is hard enough; the human roadblocks they encounter make it nearly insurmountable. Readers will root for these sisters along every step of their daunting journey.

Refusing to soft-pedal hard issues, the novel speaks with an astringent honesty, at once heartbreaking and hopeful.

(author’s note) (Fiction. 9-13)