Shaunta Grimes’ Center of Gravity (2020) is steeped with references to 1980s culture and aesthetics. Tessa, the novels twelve-year-old protagonist, is losing everything: her mother, her best friend, even her home in Colorado. She’s also gaining things shCenter of Gravity Chapter 1e doesn’t want: a twenty-three-year-old stepmom who is pregnant and a beach house in California. Her pre-existing anxiety is amplified amidst all the uncertainty and change.
Once in California Tessa bonds with some local boys with trouble of heir own. This helps put her own in perspective as she slowly begins to process the changes in her life that she has no control over.
Center of Gravity is a beautifully written middle-grade novel. The themes explored, including parental loss and child abuse, are expressed though the perspective of pre-teens whose lives are tethered to those of adults in their lives. This allows for critical reflection on adult-child relationships and constraints on youth agency.
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Losing Uncle Tim, written by MaryKate Jordan and illustrated by Judith Friedman, was published by Albert Whitman & Company in 1989. It is narrated in the first person by a boy, Daniel, who is processing the illness and eventual death of his uncle due to an AIDS-related illness.
The story is breathtakingly painful. It beautifully captures the relationship between Daniel and his uncle, Tim, as well as Daniel’s deep emotions. Friedman’s illustrations, which face Jordan’s text, look like snapshots from a photo album. This technique provides a sense of intimacy and urgency as the story progresses. Continue reading
Tiger Flowers (1994)*, written by Patricia Quinlan and illustrated by Janet Wilson, is an emotionally engaging story told from the point of view of a boy who loses his uncle and his uncle’s partner from illnesses related to HIV/AIDS. The warm and accessible picture book directly engages HIV/AIDS but has a more subtle approach to addressing homosexuality.
Readers are introduced to the young boy, Joel, as his sister wakes him up to ask about their uncle Michael. Joel reminds her that Michael has died. Continue reading