Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Harbor Me

Woodson, Jacqueline. Harbor Me
August 28th 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plua

Six students who struggle academically are involved in a pilot program in their Brooklyn school to see if they make more progress in a small group setting. Their teacher knows that it isn't just academic issues that the students face-- they also have a variety of trauma they are processing, so their teacher tells them they can have one hour every Friday to talk to each other without a teacher. The students refer to this time as ARTT (a room to talk). Haley, who lives with her uncle because her father is imprisoned because of the car accident that killed her mother, decides that everyone's story is so interesting that she wants to record them on an old school tape recorder. We hear about Esteban's father being detained for being in the country illegally from the Dominican Republic, and the family's struggles with his absence. Amari deals with racial profiling, and the fact that his father has to talk to him very severely about never, ever playing with toy guns in public. Ashton has moved to Brooklyn from Connecticut because of a downtown in family finances, but he has to come to terms with his white privilege. Holly is African-American, and her mother Kira has been hugely helpful to Haley, braiding her hair most Friday nights because her white uncle doesn't have the skills, but Holly's family is a bit more well-to-do, so she has issues of privilege of her own to deal with. Tiago feels the loss of Esteban keenly because Tiago speaks Spanish and has a pronounced accent, but is from Puerto Rico and doesn't understand why his mother no longer wants to speak Spanish after a man was rude and threatening to her. After all, Puerto Rico is part of the US. There is even some discussion about the land on which the school was built but which would have been the property of the Lenape before it was taken from them. Throughout all of the discussions, the students learn to be more sensitive to the situations of others, and kinder as a result.
Strengths: This has many discussions of timely topics. Woodson is a very lyrical writer, so there are many poetic turns of phrase. The characters all develop nicely throughout the book and learn a lot about the state of the world and about each other.
Weaknesses: This is a slow, introspective book without much action. I also found it hard to believe that the teacher let the children be in the room alone-- we aren't allowed to even have children making up tests in the hallways unsupervised! I would have believed it more if the teacher had just been in the corner of the room grading papers!
What I really think: Readers who like books like Because of Mr. Terupt that are told from different viewpoints and discuss serious topic will like this window into other people's lives.

Ms. Yingling

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