Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Fighting Words

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. Fighting Words
August 11th 2020 by Dial
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Trigger warnings: sexual abuse, suicide attempts.
**Spoilers due to content.**

Della and her older sister Suki have just been removed from the home of Clifton, a former boyfriend of their mother's, who had been raising them. Clifton had made Della the target of sexual abuse, but Suki managed to show up and catch the incident on film before the situation became even more dire. Their mother had been put in jail six years ago after cooking meth in a hotel and setting a room on fire. Clifton did not take good care of the girls, but told them if they reported him, they would be split up. Della is interviewed on film for the court, but Suki doesn't want to say anything about the abuse she endured. Their foster mother is Francine, who is gruff but kind, and willing to help the girls in many small ways. Suki gets a job at a grocery store so that she can save up to get custody of Della when she turns 18 in a few months. Della struggles in school, and while her teacher doesn't understand, the principal seems much more sympathetic, especially when she has frequent run ins with Trevor. The girls struggle with their placement, although things are going well, and Francine asks repeatedly that they both get counseling to deal with the trauma of their abuse, but her pleas are ignored. Eventually, the stress of maintaining a strong facade gets to Suki, and she ends up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. This makes Della realize that her sister had a lot more trauma from being with Clifton than she herself had. With the help of her new friend, Nehvaeh, old friend, Teena, and supportive adults in her life including a therapist, Della gains the strength to not only speak up against the way that Trevor is treating her and the girls in her class, but also to volunteer to attend Clifton's trial in person and witness against him.
Strengths: While this is an important topic, it's also a hard one to deliver to middle school students in a developmentally appropriate fashion. I can't say enough good about how well the information is delivered. This story was told with the utmost discretion; readers will know what has happened, but the details will be filled in only by their own background knowledge. Even the suicide attempt is perfectly portrayed (Highlight for spoiler: Suki slits her wrist, but is found right after she does it, gets immediate care, and survives.) What is especially interesting, and definitely valuable to younger readers (Fourth grade and up) is Della's reaction to all of the trauma in her life. She acts out in school because she has no reason to believe that things will ever go in her favor. She's had friends who were told not to talk to her after they find out her mother is incarcerated. Her teachers in the past were not supportive. Her interactions with her therapist, and the details about how she comes to terms with the events in her life, are constructive and helpful. Francine is a positive but not perfect influence, and I appreciated that she tells Della that she herself had trauma in her life, but she doesn't go into details. I had my reservations about whether this would  be a book I could personally hand to students, and I was glad to see that it was one that I would recommend without reservations to students who like to read problems novels.
Weaknesses: While I really liked the fact that all of Della's profanity was expressed by the words "snow" or "snowman", it did give an odd quality to some of her sentences.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this for readers who enjoyed Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You or books about child abuse. My own daughter was a big fan of this type of literature, because she said it made her own life seem better! While Abbott's The Summer of Owen Todd was very similar to this book, it had just a little more information than I am comfortable handing to students.

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