Sunday, April 24, 2022

In the Key of Us

Lockington, Mariama. In the Key of Us
April 26th 2022 by Farrar, Straus Children's
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Andi doesn't really want to go to summer music camp. She used to love to play the trumpet, but that was before her mother died in a car accident and she had to go live with her uptight aunt and white uncle who never really approved of her mother's artistic lifestyle. To make matters worse, she is going to become a cousin, and feels that her aunt and uncle just want to get her out of the way for the summer. The camp seems uptight as well, and Andi, who prefers to dress in all black, is not keen on the uniform, especially the knee socks. Zora, too, has her reservations about camp. Her parents are also strict, and her mother wants her to excel at playing the flute, especially after Zora had an unfortunate experience with dance. Her mother tells her that dance is not kind to girls "like you", meaning Black and curvy. Andi and Zora are bunk mates, and Zora is supposed to teach Andi the ropes, since Zora has been attending the camp for years, but the two have an unfortunate encounter that strains their relationship. Andi instead makes friends with Christopher, who has a very boisterous personality, loves arts and crafts, and tells Andi in confidence that he young adult sister is raising him after his parents were deported back to the Philippines. Andi struggles with the strictures of the elite camp, and Zora finds that she really does prefer dance after taking a master class with a black dance instructor who has a troupe in Detroit, not too terribly far from Zora's home in Ann Arbor. Both girls know that they are not interestedin boys the way other girls are, and find that they are attracted to each other, but are still a bit unsure how to proceed with a "more than friends" relationship. While Zora's friend Kendall (with whom she exchanges the occasional letter) is cool with her queer identification, as are the girls at camp, she and Andi still have a series of misunderstandings before they are able to admit their feelings. When parents' weekend arrives, both have problems with their families, but are able to work them out and find a way forward where they can embrace their new interests with the support of their families. 
Strengths: A change that has arisen in the last two years is that when students ask for romance books, I have to be careful to give them options that move beyond the traditional boy-girl crushes. This is a great book for readers who want a girl-girl romance. There is a lot of information about the musical process of the camp, and chair auditions are brutal when one is in middle school; it was good to see that portrayed. Both girls struggle with the expectations at home, which are very narrow and don't take their opinions into account as much as they should, which many readers will understand. The budding romance between Andi and Zora is the real draw for young readers here. Andi's grief and guilt over her mother's death are realistically portrayed, and it was good to see that she was in therapy and had some coping mechanisms. The cover is very appealing. 
Weaknesses: While I understand why we see the plot unfold from the dual perspectives, I was so engrossed in Andi's story that it was a bit jarring when a new chapter started from Zora's perspective. There were also a lot of flashbacks that sometimes took me out of the present story as well. It was important to know the backstory for both Andi and Zora, but I almost wish we had seen more of their separate lives before they got to camp so that the present day narrative didn't need to be interrupted.  Summer camp stories and books about band are difficult to place in my library. I loved Grosso's I am Drums, but it rarely leaves the shelves.
What I really think: This would be good for readers who enjoyed Rhuday-Perkovich's It Doesn't Take a Genius and Chase's Turning Point, and was very similar to Bigelow's Drum Roll, Please

Having been to an elite and very Christian music camp in the early 1980s, I would venture to say that the problems with elite music camps don't only affect Black attendees. I had a miserable experience,  and Andi was not alone with struggling with the expectations and narrow mind set. On a personal note, I'm never a fan of negative portrayals of Karens, and Kendall's father is engaged to a yoga teacher who shares my appellation and is described as "white and basic just like her name" (quote from the uncorrected E ARC). I understand why this happens, and know I shouldn't feel hurt, but it's still not a great thing to see negative stereotypes of any kind in middle grade literature. 

Ms. Yingling

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