The Upper World

HarperTeen. Jan. 2022. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063078598.
Gr 8 Up–Esso Adenon, 16, is a high school student in South London. He is just trying to stay out of a rival gang war, avoid the threat of expulsion, figure out how to confess his feelings to his friend, Nadia, and make sense of the journal belonging to his late father. After Esso is involved in a car accident, he is able to see a place his father referred to as “the Upper World,” a place where Esso witnesses fragments of the past and future. Meanwhile, 15-year-old footballer Rhia is a foster child searching for answers about her birth mother and her place in the world. When her mysterious new physics tutor, Dr. Esso, arrives carrying a photograph of Rhia’s mother, Rhia may have found the answers she’s been looking for, and Esso may have discovered the key to a deadly incident involving Rhia’s mother years ago. Fadugba’s debut effortlessly intersects two time lines—the past and present—with enriched dialogue and intriguing characters. This fast-paced novel interweaves themes of loss, family, violence, and time travel in a thought-provoking portrayal of life in South London. Theories will resonate strongly with math and physics enthusiasts. The majority of the characters are Black, including Esso and Rhia.
VERDICT Fans of Jason Reynolds and Neal Shusterman won’t be able to put down this electrifying debut.

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