Take Back the Block

Random. Jan. 2021. 240p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593175170.
Gr 3-7–Wes Henderson has to spend his 11th birthday protesting a new development in his neighborhood with his community activist mother. He’s melting in the heat and decides to hide when he sees a news van arrive. He doesn’t want to appear on the evening news; he dislikes protesting and gets nervous in front of cameras, which could ruin his cool reputation. Wes lives in Kensington Oaks, in the home where his mother grew up and one that his grandfather saved for 10 years to purchase. He has a tight-knit friend group that includes Mya, a girl who has moved out into a more upscale neighborhood. She doesn’t get along with Kari, another friend who had to move out when a developer bought the building he lived in. Kari’s situation is precarious and Wes worries about his well-being. But he doesn’t really relate to the issue of gentrification until it comes to Kensington Oaks and he sees firsthand how it divides the community. This impressive debut is notable for its depiction of how gentrification pushes the working-class poor out of neighborhoods, as well as substantive ways that communities can protest, all for a middle grade audience. Wes is a humorous, likable, relatable narrator who recognizes that he lives comfortably compared to some, and who appreciates his family history within the community.
VERDICT This title is a first purchase for any collection. Giles has crafted an outstanding depiction of the nuances of gentrification as well as the struggle and joys of working-class Black families and communities.

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