Heavy Medal Finalist: THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson
With perfectly timed clues and just the right amount of mystery, the puzzle Johnson has created takes the reader all over Lambert, back in time, and into the stories of many who thought their truth had been forgotten. Candice is searching for answers to prove her grandmother wasn’t the crazy person many think she was, but she’s also encountering an enhanced education on what the end of segregation meant for her family and the people of Lambert. Johnson’s ability to balance intense subjects such as divorce, moving to a new town, and Jim Crow era race relations, as well as present-day racial tensions without leaving an overarching sadness is wonderful. The presentation of such topics was accomplished in a manner fit for a middle grade audience, while still evoking lightness in the overall tone. The conversation between Candice and her mother that takes place in the entirety of chapter 24 (pages 138-142) is an excellent example of this.
The character development and the subsequent relationships formed, whether positive or negative, is what initially drew me into the story and those attributes continued to keep hold on me throughout the book. Siobhan and Reggie’s relationship packed an emotional punch, while the connection between Candice and Brandon had a childlike sweetness. Their development from being forced together by their mothers into true friends was beautifully done. Brandon and Milo had a volatile relationship, yet it felt realistic and appropriately placed. Johnson has truly created characters that kids can see themselves in, while still placing them in a puzzle-solving treasure hunt.
The Author’s Note gives excellent context as to why Johnson chose to write this story and what he based it on. I especially liked his response to the final question: “Was life really so bad for black people that they would want to pretend to be white?” The story alone opens up a wealth of discussion-worthy topics for families and classrooms, but this question and answer give readers something to truly think deeply about.
The historical elements, paired with an enticing mystery and well-drawn characters made for a rich reading experience. I loved my time with this book and walked away having both absorbed new information regarding this country’s history with race relations and thoroughly enjoyed a fun puzzle-solving group of kids.
Introduction by Amanda
Readers are now invited to share positive input on THE PARKER INHERITANCE in the comments section below. Later today we’ll open the discussion up to all comments, positive, negative, and everything in between.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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