Review of Attack of the Black Rectangles

Attack of the Black Rectangles
by Amy Sarig King
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    263 pp.    g
9/22    978-1-338-68052-2    $17.99

Sixth grader Mac Delaney isn’t sure what to expect after being assigned to Ms. Sett’s class. She’s famous—“as famous as a person can get in our town”—for writing letters to the newspaper decrying everything from junk food to girls wearing shorts in school. She seems okay, though, on the first day of school, promising her students she’ll treat them like adults—as long as they follow classroom rules. “We don’t tolerate any of the behaviors your age group usually indulges in.” For “lit circle,” Mac picks Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic (classroom rule: Don’t Read Ahead!), but he and his groupmates soon encounter a series of “ugly black rectangles” covering up words. When they discover what’s been censored (references to breasts), who’s done it (Ms. Sett), and why (“some of the boys in class giggle”), they decide to take action, finding allies and adversaries in unexpected places. King, winner of the 2022 Edwards Award for her surrealistic YA, writes middle-grade fiction (Me and Marvin Gardens, rev. 1/17; The Year We Fell from Space, rev. 11/19) that is generally more straightforward and accessible but whose timeliness and existential explorations are no less consequential. Her respect for young people is exemplary, and her characters indelible. A wrong-headed teacher can still offer compassion; Mac’s unreliable father could be a space alien. And Yolen makes a cameo appearance. In her appended author’s note, King reveals that the story was based on true events and provides suggestions for fighting (increased) book bans and censorship.

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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