From debut author Lisa Moore Ramée comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what’s right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and the novels of Renée Watson and Jason Reynolds.
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)
But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?
Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn't think that's for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.
Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn't face her fear, she'll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.--from the publisher
368 pages 978-0062836687 Ages 8-12
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I shuffle outside. This is the first time I hope Jace is not around. If he sees me in my PE clothes, I will never have a chance with him.
A bunch of kids stand around waiting, and my palms get all itchy because there is a small group of black kids standing together. Carmetta is one of them. I don’t know if I should go over there. That might sound like I don’t know I’m black, which isn’t true. But I don’t know how to walk over and act like I belong.
Sweat forms on my big forehead, and I run my hands on my ugly PE shorts.
‘Shay!’ someone hollers.
I bite back the tiny scream. Bernard. Standing next to him is like standing next to a mountain.
‘Uh, you run track?’ I squeak. Nothing about Bernard makes me think he can run fast. Which is maybe a good thing. I could totally get away if he starts chasing me.
‘Shot put,’ he says.
‘Uh…?’ I don’t like the sound of anything that has the word shot in it.
‘It’s a heavy thing you have to throw,’ Bernard says, like I should have known that. He puts up a hand to shield the sun out of his eyes and licks sweat off his upper lip.
Coach West comes outside and herds us all together.”
The story of black seventh grader Shayla Willows, her family, her friends, and fellow middle school students at ethnically- and racially-diverse Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High, is cutting-edge contemporary children’s fiction. But it contains a wealth of truths about middle school that have been real and relevant for generations. Things like kids trying out being mean in order to fit in with a popular crowd.
Through the drama of middle school relationships, Shayla Willows learns about friends and first boyfriends and emotions. There is a subtle lesson about choosing boyfriends/girlfriends by focusing on those with whom you have commonalities, rather than those who you consider hot and/or popular. There is an age-appropriate lesson about keeping one’s lips where they belong that connects to today’s #metoo movement. And there are powerful lessons that tie into the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the need to stand up to authority when power is wielded unjustly and unwisely.
All this is portrayed with gentleness and wisdom. No language or situations that would make it unwelcome in an elementary library or classroom collection (except, maybe, in schools where power is wielded in an unjust and unwise manner).
I particularly love Bernard, a large black kid who had also been in elementary school with Shayla. She’s always seen him as a bully, but by being paired with him as a lab partner and finding herself on the track team with him, she realizes that he is not at all what she thought. I kept waiting for something really bad to happen to Bernard but, again, this isn’t YA, it’s children’s contemporary fiction. There are black people being killed by cops, but it’s something that we and Shayla are experiencing in the news, not in person. It’s upsetting to these contemporary characters in the same way that the police dogs and fire hoses and police beatings of John Lewis and other civil rights protesters on TV gave me nightmares.
I love the subtle subversiveness of the story. As Bernard says at one point, “Some stuff it’s okay to get in trouble for.” Shayla is a coming-of-age Everygirl who takes a chance and stands up for what she thinks is right. Fortunately, she has supportive parents. Her track coach and many teachers are also quietly supportive.
Ralph Waldo Emerson would have approved.
A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE is a great read and a powerful story, one that could change a life. Get it into the hands of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders who are approaching or already dealing with middle school.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USASee
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