Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles (9780593175170)
Wes is always being taken to protests by his parents. But Wes wants to focus on his shoe collection, video games and hanging out with his friends, who all live or used to live in the Oaks with him. The Oaks is a special neighborhood that is mostly Black and full of events and neighborliness. But when a real estate developer moves in and tries to buy the properties from the owners, everything about the Oaks changes. Suddenly neighbors aren’t talking any more and are arguing and even screaming at one another as some of them take the money and others decide to stay. It even impacts Wes’ friend group, since some of their families need the money while others have already left. Still, Wes knows there is something he can do to help if he just keeps on trying, even if it means disobeying his parents telling him to let them handle it.
With its strong focus on gentrification and justice, this middle-grade novel shows young readers that they can have a positive impact on their communities by using long-standing social justice techniques but also new technologies. The erasure of Black history is central to this story as well, as Wes steadily uncovers how his beloved neighborhood came to be and turns it into a way to fight for it to continue to exist.
Wes is an engaging character with his history of protesting and his strong connection to his community. His group of friends are a fascinating mix, including one who has left the neighborhood and another who was forced out of where he had been living. They all show aspects of the impact of gentrification on historically Black neighborhoods but also the fracturing of long-term friendships as they find themselves on different sides of the conversation.
A book that shows the power of young voices in social justice. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.