Book Review: Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Published: August 11, 2020
Reviewed By: Cristina
Cristina’s Rating: 5 stars
Ten-year-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf — her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.
In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.
It is a Newberry honor book, and for good reason. It is also a book that deals with some VERY heavy subjects, and so I am adding a caveat to this one: READ THIS WITH YOUR YOUNG READER. Here is why:
Della is a 10-year-old girl whose mother is incarcerated. After her mother blew up the motel room they were in (cooking meth is dangerous) when she was five, Della has relied on her older sister Suki to look out for her. And Suki has. But when Clifton (the mom’s boyfriend, not their father) is caught by Suki trying to touch Della inappropriately, Suki and Della find themselves in foster care. How will these girls deal with the challenges they are facing? And how long before the secret Suki has been hiding for years will finally come out?
This book is beautifully written. The characters are believable. I love Bradley’s use of “snow” as her cover word for swearing and the realistic ways Della deals with her emotions. Yes, Della uses “snow” a whole snowin’ lot. It’s a coping mechanism for her. Why would I encourage reading such a heavy book? Because too many children who have been sexually abused believe they are alone. Because too often the abused don’t want to acknowledge and speak out against the abusers for shame, or guilt, or fear of worse things happening. Some of the stats that are shared through Della’s talks with her counselor are heartbreaking. And we need to know it, so we can help stop it. This book also deals with depression and a suicide attempt with Suki. Again, I recommend this book for mature middle schoolers, to read together with an adult and talk about what’s happening. This book does have hope worked into it, and healing, which is really the author’s message: bad things can and do happen, but you can get help and healing, and love is a powerful motivator. Read it. You’ll cry, probably, and be disgusted, and yell, but also see that there is good in many places as well. 5 stars. and I don’t do that often.