I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith (9780823445592)

Based on the author’s own childhood, this picture book explores the life of a boy with a stutter. The boy wakes every day surrounded by words, many of which he can’t say aloud. They tangle his tongue and stick in his throat. So every morning, he stays silent. He’s quiet at school too, hiding in the back of the class and hoping not to be asked to talk. After a particularly hard day, his father picks him up from school and takes him to the river. After seeing how upset his son is by his “bad speech day,” his father points to the river and says that how the water moves is how his son speaks. The river runs over rocks, bubbling and churning, but it also goes quiet and still after the rocks.

Scott is a poet and his skill with words is on full display here. He uses gorgeous metaphors throughout, including the connection to the river. The words around the boy in the morning connect with his inability to speak at times, the pine trees sticking out from his lips, the crow cawing from his throat, the moonlight shining from his mouth. Each of these gives readers a new way to experience a stutter, each beautiful and haunting.

Smith’s illustrations are done in watercolor, ink and gouache. They capture both the quiet of not being able to speak as well as the connection between father and son. When they go to the water of the river, the illustrations show the bubbling and crashing, taking the boy into the river as he swims to the calm open water. They are exquisite.

A marvel of a book that beams with empathy and understanding of stuttering. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Grown cover image

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson (9780062840356)

This gripping novel for teens takes readers into a world of high-rolling musicians and the abuse and exploitation of Black girls. Enchanted, age 17, is in high school, on the swim team and dreaming of making it big in the music industry. When she lies to her mother to get her to take her into the city for an audition, Enchanted doesn’t get the spot but does catch the attention of legendary R&B singer Korey Fields. As Korey begins to shower Enchanted with attention, her parents agree to let Enchanted leave high school and tour with Korey. What starts as a rocket to her singing career, quickly turns to a relationship with Korey. As Korey becomes more and more controlling, Enchanted finds herself unable to contact anyone for help, held against her will, and manipulated into staying. When Enchanted wakes up to find blood all around her and Korey’s body nearby, she needs to figure out what happened that night and what she did.

Jackson writes with such raw power here. She harnesses growing tensions, fear for Enchanted’s life, and reader’s horror at the situation that Enchanted finds herself in. Jackson shows how even a close and caring family can be conned into allowing their daughter to travel with an adult man and be taken advantage of. She shows how the families too are manipulated, beaten down and forced to be separated from the children they love. Readers will recognize many of the details in the book in the recent exposures of R. Kelly’s abuse of young Black girls.

Enchanted is a marvelous depiction of a seventeen year old. She is a mix of child and adult, yearning to be even more adult, to launch her life and be seen. But she is certainly still young, naive and innocent as Korey manipulates her, drawing her deeper and deeper into the world he has crafted to control her. The book is almost suffocating as their interactions become more and more abusive, leaving readers looking for a way out alongside Enchanted.

Powerful truth about Black girls and their place in the #MeToo movement. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.