Fighting Words

Dial. Aug. 2020. 256p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781984815682.
Gr 5 Up–Della’s story starts as a flash-forward, beginning with the easy part. The easy part isn’t actually easy. Della and her older sister Suki are in foster care, having run away from Clifton, the man they’d been living with since their mother was incarcerated. Clifton had threatened them for years, telling them if people found out he wasn’t their father, he wouldn’t be able to keep them and they’d have nothing to eat and nowhere to live. When Suki catches Clifton molesting Della, and takes pictures for evidence, the two ultimately end up in protective custody. Della is a conscientious narrator, always alerting readers to the harder parts of her story. Her tough exterior is misunderstood by her teacher, who takes issue with her language (the word “snow” is used throughout as a substitute for stronger terminology) but Della starts thriving, making friends and beginning to trust her foster mother Francine. Yet Suki is getting worse; she is plagued by nightmares, refusing to see her friends, and fighting with Della for the first time. A content warning for her suicide attempt is necessary, as the ultimate truth emerges that Suki herself was sexually molested by Clifton for eight years. Despite the horrors the sisters have endured, there is humor and warmth in this multifaceted, brave novel. Bradley creates fully developed, believable characters that readers will root for. It is heartwarming to see the sisters evolve as characters, as they begin to get help for all they have witnessed and experienced.
VERDICT Raw and honest, this ultimately empowering novel is an important book for readers of all ages. Adults may want to follow up or simultaneously read the book with younger readers to discuss the difficult issues addressed.

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