Review of King and the Dragonflies

King and the Dragonflies
by Kacen Callender
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    263 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-338-12933-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-12935-9    $10.99

In their second middle-grade novel (Hurricane Child, rev. 5/18), set in contemporary small-town Louisiana, Callender masterfully balances resonant themes of grief, love, family, friendship, racism, sexuality, and coming-of-age. Twelve-year-old King copes with the sudden death of his beloved older brother, Khalid, who used to talk in his sleep while dreaming about visiting another universe. King believes his brother has "left his body behind like a second skin" and become a dragonfly. He tries to keep Khalid close by remembering the dreaming Khalid's philosophical musings ("There's no such thing as happiness. No such thing as sadness, or anger, or anything else...There's just you...That star inside you"). Meanwhile, King is keeping secrets: his friend Sandy has run away from an abusive father (the town's sheriff), and King is sheltering him; Sandy is gay, and so, King gradually accepts, is he. Both boys know they are facing homophobia, which will be even more oppressive for King because it's compounded by racial prejudice (King is African American; Sandy is white). Callender's portrayal of tween angst and awakening — including King's authentically devised evolution — anchors this deeply affecting, memorable novel. Well-rounded supporting characters are believable and relatable in a story line that addresses serious issues with unreserved honesty and heightened sensitivity.

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.
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