Review of Fighting Words

Fighting Words
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Intermediate, Middle School    Dial    269 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-9848-1568-2    $17.99

Ten-year-old Delicious Nevaeh Roberts, a.k.a. Della, doesn’t take “snow” from anyone (“Suki says whenever I want to use a bad word, I can say snow”). She’s learned to be tough from her fiercely protective sixteen-year-old sister Suki, who has been her de facto parent since their meth-addicted mother went to prison. Their life in East Tennessee is looking up now that they have moved in with pragmatic foster mom Francine. Della is making new friends at school and learning to swim at the Y, while Suki has scored a cashier job at their local supermarket. But Suki is hiding a devastating secret about the time they lived with their mom’s boyfriend Clifton, a secret that causes her to wake up screaming every night. It’s only after Suki attempts suicide that Della understands it’s time to use her own voice to help her sister speak up. “Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.” Newbery Honor winner Bradley (The War That Saved My Life, rev. 1/15) perfectly balances pathos and humor (as found in many of Della’s observations) in this tender story of sisterhood, while also showcasing the astonishing strength and resilience of children to confront, and eventually heal from, trauma and sexual abuse. Della’s bold, cheeky first-person narration is unforgettable, as is the supporting cast of adult characters, from redoubtable Francine to deli-counter worker Maybelline, whose brusque demeanor belies a kind heart. An author’s note includes information about suicide and abuse prevention organizations.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jennifer Hubert Swan
Jennifer Hubert Swan is director of library services and middle school librarian at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City. She is also a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute School of Information, where she teaches youth literature and library programming. She blogs at Reading Rants.

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