Friday, December 3, 2021

MIGHTY INSIDE: A Middle Grade Historical Novel Review and Giveaway

Although I've never met Sundee Frazier in person, I feel as if I know her. When I first started researching Half-Truths, I read her autobiographical book, Check All That Apply: Finding Wholeness as a Multiracial Person (InterVarsity, 2002. The daughter of a white mother and a Black father, Sundee wrote candidly about her struggles to fit in, to feel accepted as a multiracial person, and how her Christian faith helped her in her journey to wholeness.

Fast forward several years, and Sundee wrote The Other Half of My Heart (Random House, 2010) about twin girls--one who is "milky white" and the other is "cinnamon brown." Their Black grandmother insists that both girls enter the Black Pearls of America pageant--which produces high drama for both girls! (Click here for my interview with Sundee about this book and how she mined her life to write it.)

Sundee's most recent book, Mighty Inside  (Levine Querido October, 2021) also draws from her own life--this time most specifically about her father's and grandparents' experiences in Spokane, Washington in 1955. After you read my review, please click on the video. Sundee and her family share some of the stories that informed this wonderful middle grade novel.

(Please see Sundee's website for her other children's books.)

REVIEW



Every time he opened his mouth, his words backed away like a kid afraid to jump off the high dive--running to the end and then stopping, over and over--until he could feel the pulsing of an artery in his forehead. His tongue felt as heavy and solid as a brick. (p. 17)

That's how Melvin Robinson describes his "traitor mouth" that trips over "sticky" letters like "T" "P" or "B." It's the Stutter that has been with him ever since he was a little kid; the mouth that prevents him from speaking his mind; the tongue that will embarrass him as he enters high school. 

He makes it through his first day of school with one big accomplishment: he meets Lenny--a talkative, Jewish, white sax player who sticks to Melvin like a burr. But, as Melvin finds out, Lenny ends up being the best friend a kid could have. 

As the book progresses, Sundee skillfully weaves in backstory. Melvin overhears an argument between Melvin's father and his Uncle T.:

"Why you think that boy got that stutter? 'Cause he's surrounded by all these white folks, that's why. You shouldn't be here. You should be on the east side. Or do you think you're too good for that?" 

....

Pops had crossed a line. Was Melvin suffering because of it?" (p. 52)

School is a mixture of pain with some spots of pleasure. Despite faithfully doing his tongue exercises, Melvin messes up frequently--and is teased by several bullies. But, his day is brightened by brief glimpses and interactions with his crush, Millie, a Japanese American. Science (taught by a veteran who lost a hand in WWII) and choir are highlights. When he sings the Stutter never appears. 

But where Melvin really begins to shine, is playing accordion alongside of Lenny. The two become so good that Lenny convinces Melvin that they should try out for a television show featuring local kid performers. Although Melvin is scared, he realizes that his accordion speaks better than he does.  

I don't want to include any spoilers, so I'll just say:

  • I really appreciated how Sundee threads Melvin's Christianity--as well as his questions into the novel. During a stressful time, Melvin recites portions of Psalm 23. Although he wonders why God gave him a "broken tongue," his faith helps him conquer his fears. 
  • Other plot points about Emmett Till, Lenny's father, and Millie's experience in Japanese internment camps enrich the book.  
  • I liked the metaphor of the "walls" of prejudice that Melvin keeps running into.
  • And finally, just like Jackie in Joyce Hostetter's latest novel, Equal, Melvin also discovers: 
He knew he would get stuck on some of his words, and it was all right. He had decided the best way to deal with an enemy, if he could, was to make that enemy his friend. The Sutter was a part of what made him him and he was okay. Just the way he was. (p.229)


The Author's Note includes how Sundee's grandparents acquired their home and some of the family stories she drew from. Here's the promised video: 

                                            https://youtu.be/4SOq6Fw0NDk

GIVEAWAY

To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment by December 7 at 9 AM. If you decide to follow my blog for the first time or share this on social media, I'll put your name in twice--just let me know what you did. If you are new to my blog, please leave your name and email address.  

Congratulations to Amy Houts, who won Dear. Mr. Dickens from last week's blog.

41 comments:

Lois said...

There is so much history we are not aware of. Thanks for sharing these books, Carol.

Carol Baldwin said...

You are right, Lois. Your name starts the list.

Unknown said...

Wow, what an extraordinary story and valuable piece of history. Thanks for sharing and especially the video of the family history in Spokane. Having been raised in Oregon, I can so relate, and I would love my grandson to read this.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, LInda!

Danielle H. said...

I enjoy historical middle grade and YA and this one sounds authentically written and will definitely be a learning experience for me as well as an empathy builder. Thank you for the post with the author video. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/669571335043825664/mighty-inside-a-middle-grade-historical-novel

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for sharing on Tumbler, Danielle. You're in twice.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Thanks for posting about such an awesome topic. It is good for each of us to feel mighty inside. Don't put my name in the hat.
Enjoy your day!

Never Give Up
Joan

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Joan. I could add your name and you could donate it to a school or library if you want!

Carrie said...

Looks amazing!

Carol Baldwin said...

Carrie--you and your kids would resonate with this book!!

Amy Houts said...

This book sounds like it tackles a big issue with sensitivity and hope. Thank you for your detailed review, Carol. I'm thrilled I won Dear Mr. Dickens! I'm hoping my sister wins this one. : )

Carol Baldwin said...

Well, I hope your sister leaves a comment--but you're in the giveaway too, Amy! In fact, now that you've followed my blog, your name will go in twice!!

Rosi said...

This looks simply terrific. I am going to have to get all her books. The video was very interesting. Thanks for all of this. I Tweeted about the giveaway.

Connie Porter Saunders said...

Sounds great! I've shared on FB & Twitter.
Connie
cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Connie. You're in twice!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Rosi. You're n twice. I thought you would like this book!

Terri DeGezelle Michels said...

Interesting. Thank you for the work you do spreading the words on important books to read.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Terri!

Amy Houts said...

Thanks, Carol! I told Nancy about it.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Amy. I appreciate you sharing my blog with others!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
No thsnk you.
…Joan

Barbara Baldwin said...

Hmmm, this book sounds quite interesting. As a Speech Language Pathologist, I am very familiar with dysfluency (stuttering) and the impact on young boys. Boys are typically more likely to experience dysfluency at a young age, and truthfully throughout their life if they do not receive appropriate therapy.
Additionally, I have two middle school-age foster children and I look forward to hearing their thoughts after they read the book. Therapy for middle school youngsters is critical to manage many issues (dysfluency, abuse, abandonment, assault, etc.). I hope the author discussed appropriate therapy for her primary character.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Barbara, for your extensive comments. You would definitely appreciate this book and the work that went into writing it!

Beth said...

Thank you for sharing a book about the 1950's when I grew up. This book will be a mentor text for my own writing. Glad you posted on MMGM!
Beth
schmelzb1@gmail.com

Randomly Reading said...

This sound like a really interesting book. Stuttering is something I have a personal interest in and I'm happy to see authors finally writing about it.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Beth, for welcoming me to MMGM. I just discovered it. MIGHTY INSIDE makes a great mentor text.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Alex. I was able to grab your email address from your blog. Appreciate you leaving a comment!

Test said...

Welcome to #MMGM. I hadn't seen the video, so thanks for posting that. I've already ordered a copy of Mighty Inside for my library, but I'm glad to see another review for it!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Test. Glad you ordered a copy of the book! It's a great read.

Sue Heavenrich said...

Welcome to MMGM. Looks like stuttering is gaining more visibility in kid-lit. Thanks for featuring Mighty Inside. Definitely need to read it!

Carol Baldwin said...

Sue, thanks for the welcome. I found your email address so added you to the list!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I hadn't heard of this author, but this sounds like a great story that we can learn from. Her other books you mention sounds good too. Glad you've joined MMGM.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Natalie. I'm glad I joined too!!

Greg Pattridge said...

Your enticing review put this story high on my to read list. The characters and time period are a real draw. I don't see too many MG books set in the 1950s and it's great to find another story where the MC stutters. Thanks for joining us on MMGM today and I hope you will return.

Carol Baldwin said...

That's great, Greg! My own WIP takes place in 1950--Maybe I can share something about it when it's closer to becoming a book! And I'm so glad I found your blog--I will return for sure!

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

Welcome to MMGM, Carol—it's wonderful to have another blogger here! (I do blog on MMGM semi-regularly—just not in the weeks when I'm reviewing YA or picture books, like this one.) I've heard of Mighty Inside, and it sounds like such a compelling read—there's so many topics that seem to be explored and threaded through so carefully! I'll pass on the giveaway, since I am drowning in new books to read and there seem to be many others who are interested, but thanks so much for the thoughtful review!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, Completely Full (what a great blog name!). I look forward to reading your reviews too.

Patricia T. said...

I posted a comment, but I don't see it. Am thrilled to see another book on stuttering -- the most searched topic on my website. Long over do and three MG books published recently. Loved the angle of this story and loved the video. Can't wait to read!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Patricia. Your comment won't be visible until I approve it--but I did get both! Unfortunately, I picked a winner already. I hope you purchase the book--it's excellent!

Rosi said...

Welcome to MMGM! Nice to see you here.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Rosi. Joyce told me about it--I think she found the link on your blog!

"You're Almost in Labor!" A Celebration of Stages

  If you're reading this and have been pregnant for nine long months, or if you've been close to someone during that-seemingly-endle...