Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: FIGHTING WORDS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Tamara DePasquale
Meet 10 year-old Delicious Nevaeh Roberts (Della) and her sixteen year-old sister Suki Grace Roberts, sisters who are fiercely devoted to each other and living in foster care “after they got away from Clifton.” What follows is a well-written, pace-perfect, character-rich, and honest portrayal of the aftermath of sexual abuse, the significance of words – both spoken and written – and the ability to heal and hope when the appropriate support is provided.
Della’s voice is authentic, raw, unapologetic, and yet respectful to the reader who’s about to hear her story. With warnings and reassurances, Della gradually shares the details that led to her and Suki’s placement in foster care: “I’m going to tell you the whole story. Some parts are hard, so I’ll leave those for later. I’ll start with the easy stuff.” The pacing and amount of information is spot-on for the targeted audience. While the issues are serious (drug addiction, neglect, colorism, parent incarceration, foster care, bullying, sexual harassment, poverty, depression, anger, suicide, child sexual assault and molestation, and trauma), the reader faces a mirror or a doorway that is wholly accurate and safe at all times and made less burdensome through Della’s occasional wry humor and unvarnished appraisal of others.
In addition to this careful attention to story, secondary characters provide the right amount of support for both Della and Suki. From Francine and Nevaeh to the Food City staff and Tina and her mother, these characters are well-developed and each plays a vital role in the girls’ healing process. Though Clifton’s actions are ever present in the story, he is not. We don’t know much about Clifton, and we don’t need to. As Francine says, “Their stories are their own.” And FIGHTING WORDS is, indeed, Della and Suki’s story of survival and triumph.
Filed under: Book Discussion, Heavy Medal Mock
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 email@example.com.
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