Wow, Roberta is a 13 year old who is going through a lot during her last year of middle school! During her 8th grade year, she has a love/hate relationship with a number of important people in her life, including both her parents, her teacher Sister Elizabeth, and even with God himself.
At her Catholic school, although the number of Black students is growing, she is still a part of the minority, so when she questions some things about history out loud to Sister Elizabeth, she clashes with her teacher in a way that has Roberta wondering how’s she going to make it through the rest of the school year. Then she also has to deal with the rift growing between her parents and her own relationship with each of them. Luckily, Roberta is finishing reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and is able to find parallels between Malcolm’s growth and her own. Plus, she always has the power of the pen to help her make sense of her thoughts and feelings. Readers who love to write poetry or in a journal or diary will be able to identify with Roberta as she uses her writing to help find her voice and to help her guide her decisions. She grows a lot as an individual throughout 8th grade, and comes to realize that although everything does not go exactly the way she wants, she can figure out how to adjust and still find happiness.
Personally, I feel like there are not a lot of historical fiction MG books that take place post-civil rights movement with Black characters front and center. So the setting alone, including a small peek into Watergate, I think will help to fill in a gap in history for young readers. There are great descriptions of Roberta’s afro and her outfits that help to transport you back to the ’70s. And although there were times that Roberta’s behavior was frustrating to me, an adult, I can totally see how middle/high school students would identify with her and her choices. So for young readers who are also writers (this story is based on some experiences Farmer actually had), who are struggling to fit in, who are into Black History, or who are struggling with parental relationships at home, this may be the book for them.
Malcolm and Me by Robin Farmer was released in November of 2020, so it can be found wherever books are sold. Thank you to the publisher for giving MG Book Village a copy for review.
Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at raisingreaders.site or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.