Friday, November 17, 2023

True True

Hooper, Don P. True True
August 1, 2023 by Nancy Paulsen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Gil lives in Brooklyn, where his family is having some problems. His mother just got a job with the MTA after being waitlisted, so that's a good thing, but it's offset by his grandmother's worsening dementia, and the fact that his father has had to return to Jamaica in order to work out details of his immigration status. Gil knows this is crucial, because he's had a friend whose father was deported, but still misses his father. Because his high school doesn't have the STEM resources for him to properly prepare for college, he takes a position to go to Augustin Prep in Manhattan. He's glad for the opportunities that this might provide when it comes to college scholarships, and is excited about the robotics team, but is very reluctant to leave the comfort of his Brooklyn neighborhood and the strong cultural ties there. He knows that his prep school uniform will cause him trouble outside of Manhattan, and knows that in the rarified, mainly white atmosphere of Augustin Prep, his Blackness will be an issue. Even though he meets a few supportive people, like Tammy, who heads the Black Cultue Club group, there are constant microaggressions from staff as well as horrific treatment from students like Terry and his friends on the football team. After Gil innocently moves Terry's sweater in the cafeteria, Terry attacks Gil, and even uses the n-word. Of course, Gil is blamed for the altercation, and suspended. When he comes back, he is put on probation, which means he can't compete in robotics club or join the BCC. Also an avid martial arts practitioner who participates at the Always Persevere Dojo, he knows the moves he needs to physically defends himself, but accepts a copy of  Sun Tzu's The Art of War from one of his teachers, and begins to formulate ways to fight back against the racist adminstration and culture of Augustin Prep. He wants to take full advantages of the privileges that the private school affords, but will he be able to?

Gil is a great character with a lot of different interests. He is very invested in the Always Persevere Dojo, and even mentors younger kids there. He is passionate about robotics, and looking forward to the opportunities that Augustin Prep will offer him. He is supportive of his friends in Brooklyn, Rej and Stretch, and realizes that they will not have the same chances that he has. Gil is conflicted about who he is and where he belongs, but when he sees the racial injustices that aren't being addressed at Augustin, he is willing to work to change them, even though there could be a personal price to pay. Even with all of that on his plate, he is still a teen boy, and his relationship with Tammy is based on mutual respect and equality, which I really appreciated. 

Despite all of the racial issues that Gil and his classmates of color face, there were moments of hopefulness that keep Gil going. His grandmother, when she is not consumed by the fog of her dementia, is grateful that things have changed incrementally since she was young, and even since Gil's parents were starting out. It is good to see that Gil is able to have a sense of agency and tries to change the situations at his school, not just for himself, but for students who will come after him. 

Readers who want to mix realistic teen drama with elements of racial issues and who liked this combination in Arnold's I Rise, Buford's Kneel and Coles' Black Was the Ink will enjoy this great debut novel from the author of the short story Got Me a Jet Pack, which was published in the 2021 Black Boy Joy collection. It would be a great fiction accompaniment to Wes Moore's autobiographical Discovering Wes Moore

Ms. Yingling

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