Bryan lives with his parents and sister, Ava, in Brooklyn. Mom works in a social service agency where Bryan often spends time after school. Bryan truly loves his mom and enjoys spending time with her. He loves his dad as well, but dad has a temper that often leads him to getting locked up. Bryan is a bit of a loner, and being a mom who wants the best for her child, she decides to find a friend for her son. She invites Mike, a young boy who has come to her for assistance, to their home and Mike and Bryan’s relationship progresses from there.
The underlying theme of the book is that we have the power to control our own responses to others. Maldonado delivers his message with a very light touch that provides much space for contemplation and discussion. Tight centers Bryan, a young Black man who is just beginning to learn how to navigate the world around him, particularly how to select friends and maintain a healthy relationship with them. This is a solid middle grade book with Bryan beginning to question things he’s always taken for granted.
Maldonado’s female characters are poorly developed, often coming off as the keepers of the culture, the ones with sage advice on how to do things. They’re sources of strength and rarely wrong, not nearly as much fun as the young men in the book. While this may lead a respect for women, it also places them on a pedestal.
Bryan’s dad has a temper and lives by street code. This provides much protection for Bryan but, also many emotional triggers for both him and his dad. Maldonado incorporates the trauma Bryan and is family experience from dad being locked up in a very subtle manner, yet it’s very much a part of the story.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that relates so well to Black and Brown boys in their formative years, to their hormonal ups and downs, need for creativity, attachment to their family, search for adventure and desire for independence.