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Reviews of the 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Award Winner and Honor Books

Fiction and Poetry Winner

thomas_hate u givestar2 The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    453 pp.
2/17    978-0-06-249853-3    $17.99

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives a life many African American teenagers can relate to: a life of double consciousness. Caught between her rough, predominantly black neighborhood and the “proper,” predominantly white prep school she attends, Starr has learned how to “speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people.” This precarious balance is broken when Starr witnesses the shooting of her (unarmed) childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. What follows is a gut-wrenching chain of events that alters all Starr holds dear. New relationships are forged, old ones are severed, and adversaries arise as Starr’s family, friends, school, and neighborhood react to Khalil’s death, including questioning who Khalil was, and whether his death was justified. Between her neighborhood’s “no-snitching” code and inaccurate media portrayals, Starr must decide whether or not to speak out — and her decision could endanger her life. With a title taken from rapper Tupac Shakur’s acronym THUG LIFE (“The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody”), the novel introduces numerous components of the urban experience, “thug life” included. From drug addicts to police officers, most characters are multifaceted, proving that Starr’s world is not all black or white (or black vs. white, for that matter). The story, with so many issues addressed, can feel overwhelming at times, but then again, so can the life of an African American teen. Debut author Thomas is adept at capturing the voices of multiple characters, and she ultimately succeeds in restoring Starr’s true voice. Thomas has penned a powerful, in-your-face novel that will similarly galvanize fans of Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down (rev. 11/14) and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys (rev. 11/15). EBONI NJOKU

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

grimes_one last wordOne Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes; illus. by various artists
Intermediate, Middle School, High School   Bloomsbury   120 pp.
1/17    978-1-61963-554-8    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-61963-555-5    $12.99

The vibrancy of the Harlem Renaissance is illuminated in Grimes’s provocative poetry collection. In a tribute to the great poets of the era, she offers new verse with contemporary settings using an unusual form called Golden Shovel, in which each line of the new poem ends with one of the words in a line from the original. For example, from Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” she renders a poem about a son in a “dwindled” family who proclaims, “…I stand strong like / a tree my baby brothers can lean on. I try to be the / raft that helps carry them over this life’s rough rivers.” Themes of the new poems include self-pride, aspirations, bullying, and peer relations. A clean layout that juxtaposes each original poem with its new verse helps readers make thematic connections. In a framing device, a contemporary girl contemplating a world full of hate and fear revisits, on her teacher’s advice, the powerful works of eight prominent Harlem Renaissance figures, including Gwendolyn Bennett, Jean Toomer, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Returning from her dip into the “glory days” of the Harlem Renaissance, she feels hopeful, reassuring her sister that “life will be rough, / but we’ve got the stuff / to make it.” The poems are complemented by original artistic interpretations by fifteen black artists (e. g., E. B. Lewis, Javaka Steptoe, Christopher Myers, Shadra Strickland) who offer absorbing and engaging images. This enterprising and unusual volume not only introduces the Harlem Renaissance to young readers but also presents the challenge of a new way to write and enjoy poetry. Poet and artist biographies, sources, and an index are appended. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

BestManstar2 The Best Man
by Richard Peck
Intermediate, Middle School     Dial     232 pp.
9/16     978-0-8037-3839-3     $16.99     g
e-book ed. 978-0-698-18973-7     $10.99

Rise and toast The Best Man, Peck’s story about Archer Magill, a boy growing from a raw dollop of kindergarten id into a functional middle-school kid, a budding citizen of the world. As a participant in the two weddings that launch and conclude the novel (the first when he is six and the latter as a sixth grader), Archer is a familiar American type: a kid’s kid, of the sort readers may recognize from Beverly Cleary or Eleanor Estes. Decent, a little clueless — neither a hero nor a bystander, Archer is aware of wanting grownups to emulate. Among the men Archer applauds is his uncle Paul. That Paul turns out to be gay is not a crisis. “‘You knew I was gay, right?’ Uncle Paul sat up, pushed his ball cap back. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I guess. Not really. No.’” Show me six other words that capture a fifth grader so adroitly. The Best Man, refreshingly, is neither polemic nor camp-on-steroids. (That Uncle Paul’s love interest is a hunk — and Archer’s student teacher — who captivates the national Twitter-verse is perhaps the only slip toward stereotype — or are all gay men gorgeous? Just asking.) Archer’s continuing  admiration of his uncle after the revelation is underplayed; this isn’t a problem novel. Uncle Paul’s life doesn’t overwhelm the parade of Archer’s school dramas involving teachers, friends, enemies, and a dying grandfather, which roll along with brio and feeling. Your reviewer here breaks convention to reveal that a child of his recently admitted to having been bullied, several years ago, for having two dads. So we’re not done needing books like this. Comic, easy to read, swiftly paced, and matter-of-fact, Peck’s latest steps out to lead the way. GREGORY MAGUIRE

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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The 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced at Day of Dialog on May 31st, 2017. For reviews of the picture book and nonfiction winners and more, click on the tag bghb17.

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