Reviews of the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Award Winner and Honor Books

Nonfiction Winner

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement
by Paula Yoo
High School    Norton    384 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-324-00287-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-324-00288-8    $17.48

Who was Vincent Chin? The brutal 1982 killing of the young Chinese American in Detroit by two white men occurred during the U.S.-Japan auto trade wars, a time when anti-Asian hate ran high. Outrage over the killers’ sentencing — a $3,000 fine and probation — mobilized Asian Americans into protesting. The subsequent 1984 federal civil rights trial sparked reforms in victims’ rights and hate-crime reporting. In this extensively researched account — based on news articles (many reproduced here), court records, documentary films, and her own interviews — Yoo skillfully retells the life story of Vincent Chin, an engineering draftsman who was about to get married; his mother, Lily Chin; and everyone else involved, including the killers, witnesses, police, attorneys, judges, family friends, and community members. Yoo reconstructs the night of June 19th when Chin and his friends went to a strip club for his bachelor party and got into a fight with autoworker Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, ending with Chin’s fatal beating outside a McDonald’s restaurant. The narrative follows the aftermath, from the federal trial up to the present day, with updates on the lives of Ebens and others. An afterword observes how anti-Asian discrimination and violence in America continue today with COVID-19–related attacks and racial profiling, but Yoo reminds readers of Chin’s legacy “to fight back against hate.” Back matter includes a detailed timeline, meticulous source notes, and an index (unseen). MICHELLE LEE

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team
by Christina Soontornvat
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    288 pp.    g
10/20    978-1-5362-0945-7    $24.99

An author of picture books, easy readers, and middle-grade novels, Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark, rev. 5/20) here presents a compelling work of nonfiction. On June 23, 2018, in Mae Sai, Thailand, twelve members of a youth soccer team and their coach decided to explore a nearby cave after practice. After venturing several miles in, they found themselves trapped by floods caused by unseasonably early monsoon rains. As Thailand marshaled international resources, the world watched the drama unfold. The rescue — all thirteen survived — would be nothing short of miraculous. In lucid prose written in third-person-present tense for a heightened sense of immediacy, Soontornvat gives readers a journalistic account of the difficulty and complexity of the rescue effort. Using interviews and other primary sources, she keeps a tight focus on the unfolding story, with its inherent edge-of-your-seat, heart-in-your-throat drama, adroitly juggling a parade of characters, clearly laying out the technical and engineering challenges, and judiciously parsing out expository information in the occasional sidebar. The rescue effort brought out the best in humanity, and inspiring messages of teamwork, cooperation, sacrifice (the death of a Thai diver is covered in a chapter called “A Tragic Loss”), loyalty, faith, and hope abound in these pages. Liberally illustrated throughout with full-color illustrations and maps; an author’s note, source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended. (See Marc Aronson’s Rising Water, rev. 5/19, for another account of the same events.) JONATHAN HUNT

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


Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Floyd Cooper
Primary, Intermediate    Carolrhoda    32 pp.    g
2/21    978-1-5415-8120-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-7284-1738-7    $27.99

In 1921, over the course of sixteen hours, the Black community of Greenwood, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was all but destroyed, with most of its residents left homeless, injured, or dead. In picture-book form, Weatherford and Cooper skillfully present this history to young people. Great care is taken to describe the Greenwood community as it once was: known as “Black Wall Street” and home to Black professionals and working-class folk alike, “where some say Black children got a better education than whites.” Small details add to the authenticity of the narrative, such as Miss Mabel’s Little Rose Beauty Salon, where “maids who worked for white families got coiffed on their day off and strutted in style.” Far from romanticizing history, Weatherford is equally descriptive in explaining how a false accusation of assault brought simmering racial tensions to a violent end, with a white mob “looting and burning homes and businesses that Blacks had saved and sacrificed to build.” Many survivors left the area, and those who stayed “did not speak of the terror.” Not until 1997 was the little-known incident investigated and discovered to be not a “riot” but a massacre — ­abetted by both police and city officials. ­Cooper’s illustrations (“oil and erasure”) are the perfect partner to this history, the sepia-toned images resembling historical photographs. The portraits of Black residents are particularly moving, seeming to break the fourth wall to implore the reader to remember their story. The author’s and illustrator’s notes provide additional information, including their individual connections to the topic. EBONI NJOKU

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced on June 23rd, 2021. For reviews of the other winning titles and more, click on the tag BGHB21.

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