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 29 February 2020 KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES by Kacen Callender, Scholastic Press, February 2020, 272p., ISBN: 978-1-338-12933-5


“There will come a time when everybody

Who is lonely will be free

To sing and dance and love.

There will come a time when every evil

That we know will be an evil

That we can rise above.”

-- Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (1968)


“I want to say that no one hates him, but I know it’s not true. I think about the way Camille and Darrell talk about Sandy. I know half the school whispers the same things. No one will sit with him or talk to him, except Jasmine.

Sandy’s right. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say again, louder this time.

I hear my name being shouted. My mom’s calling for me. There’s fear in her voice. Sandy and I both look up at the tent opening like we expect the zipper to magically undo itself and reveal the two of us and our secret to the entire world. My mom shouts my name again

‘I should go,’ I tell Sandy. I get up on my knees and reach for the zipper.

‘I’ll leave,’ he tells me. ‘I’ll find a new hiding spot, so---’ He hesitates, and I think he might be trying to say something like so you don’t have to deal with me anymore. I interrupt him before he can.

‘No,’ I say. ‘Stay.’

He frowns a little, and I have no idea what he’s thinking.

‘Please,’ I tell him. ‘Just stay here. Where else are you going to go?’

He can’t go back home. Even if he won’t tell me what happened, I know that those bruises and that cut on his mouth didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Jasmine and I have noticed the yellow and green bruises on Sandy’s arms before. Jasmine whispered to me once that she thinks Sandy’s dad might be abusive. She said that she wanted to tell a teacher, but she was afraid Sandy would be mad at her.

Sandy shakes his head. ‘I can find another place to hide.’

‘You’ll just get caught.’

He looks up at me through his lashes, a little shyly. ‘You promise you’re not going to tell no one?’

‘I shake my head. ‘Nope. And I’ll keep bringing you food. I can sneak you in the house so you can take a shower. You’ll be safe here.’

We don’t say anything about how he can’t stay here forever. How he might be safe for now, but he might not be safe for much longer. We decide to shake on it, like my dad says proper men in Louisiana agree on things, and that’s that.”


Twelve year-olds Charles “Sandy” Sanders, who is white, and Kingston “King” James, who is black, had been close friends. They trusted and confided in one another, and enjoyed one another’s company. This, despite Sandy’s grandfather being a Ku Klux Klan member, his big brother being at odds with King’s big brother, and Sandy’s father being the local sheriff. 


But after King’s beloved brother Khalid overheard Sandy telling King that Sandy is gay, Khalid had demanded that King stay away from Sandy. Otherwise, he told King, people will think that King is gay, too. Which King is coming to realize he actually is.


King had dutifully heeded his big brother’s warning, despite the pain it caused him. He told Sandy they could no longer be friends. Shortly thereafter, Khalid inexplicably died while playing soccer. This left King, at such a pivotal moment in his young life, without either his brother or his best friend. 


King found it agonizing to be in the bedroom that he and Khalid had shared. He made a habit of sleeping in a tent in the backyard. The same tent where Sandy and King had shared their secrets with one another. The tent where Sandy first takes refuge when he “disappears” after one of his father’s brutal beatings.


Once again having Sandy at close range, King must figure out what is really right.


There is such power and innocence in this coming-of-age story. Absolutely beautiful writing. You can feel, smell, and taste the bayou country setting. You repeatedly delve into King’s innermost thoughts. 


There is so much depth and complexity in this notable, moving, and memorable tale that is pitch perfect for upper elementary readers. 


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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