- Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker Fighting Words. Dial, 2020 [272p] Trade ed. ISBN 9781984815682 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9781984815699 $10.99 Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 4-7
The most important person in ten-year-old Della's world is been her older sister, Suki, and now the sisters are staying together with their new foster mother, Francine, after an abrupt departure from their previous home. Della's narration gradually reveals that they were living with their incarcerated mother's former boyfriend, Clifton, and they fled after he attempted to sexually molest Della and the police were called on him. Pugnacious Della struggles at school and scraps with a boy who bullies the girls for wearing or not wearing a bra, but it soon becomes clear that it's Suki, who's been Della's rock, is the sister in great need now. Always an engaging [End Page 465] and smooth writer, Bradley here unfurls a tale that initially recalls Paterson's classic Great Gilly Hopkins but then adds layers of complexity as Della finds her feet only to realize Suki had been Clifton's victim for years and is beginning to shatter. It's a sensitive exploration of the way people can suffer in different ways and need different things, and characterization is deft and vivid, from Della's patient new friend Nevaeh to Suki's kind retail co-workers to Francine, the brusque and unsentimental caretaker who focuses on the financial side of foster care, not just because she needs the money but to be sure her charges get what they're entitled to. The book firmly supports Suki's recovery and the possibility of Clifton's punishment for his crimes, but as stirring is Della and her friends making their voices heard at school and putting a satisfying end to the sexualized bullying. The result is a rewarding story about a kid who gets the support she needs but more importantly finds a way to be there for herself. An author's note provides some resources for suicide prevention and victims of sexual violence.