Ross, Susan. Kiki and Jacques
October 15th 2015 by Holiday House
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Jacques is having some difficulties in middle school in a small town in Maine. His mother is dead, his father unemployed and unable to handle her loss, and his grandmother's business struggling. Not only that, but he is made co-captain of his school soccer team since a new player is better than he is. Having even more problems, however, are the Somalian students who are moving into the town in increasing numbers. Kiki's father was killed in Somalia, and she occasionally has to miss school to watch younger siblings. It is her brother who plays soccer with Jacques, and he is very protective of Kiki and suspicious of her friendship with Jacques. Kiki would like to play soccer as well, but is not allowed. Jacques has further problems with a local bully who wants him to help rob a store near his grandmother's.
Strengths: It is good to finally see a chapter book that includes Somali children who have interests and problems not necessarily related to being Somalian. This is a short book, includes sports, and has a lot of cross-gender appeal. The depiction of the small town, with the inclusion of the Catholic church that is important in Jacques life, was interesting. Will definitely purchase a copy.
Weaknesses: The writing in this was uneven, and there were a lot of things crammed into the book. The bully was necessary for some action and plot development, but I could have done completely without the father's grief, unemployment, and alcoholism. That just added a layer of sadness to a book that should have focused more on the intermingling of cultures.
What I really think: I will be curious to see if Ms. Ross writes more, and would love it if she would do more books with Somalian characters, especially if the book is not all about their culture, but about children in that culture having other interests. I think her writing will mature; this was a good first effort, and even has a decent cover for a Holiday House book.