Title: Fighting Words
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020
I don’t think I’ve ever naturally categorized my thoughts about a book into a Top 10 list before, but Fighting Words, a 2021 Newbery Honor, lends itself to a list.
Top 10 List of Things to Know About Fighting Words BEFORE Your Child Dives In
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
- Della, the 10-year old main character, is a nickname for Delicious. Her 16-year old’s sister’s name is Suki. Neither know where their names come from. Neither know who their fathers are.
- Their mother is incarcerated for blowing up a motel room. Della and Suki were inside, while she was cooking meth in the bathroom. She is in a Kansas prison, while the girls live in Tennessee.
- The girls have just been placed with Francine, a foster care provider, following the arrest of Clifton, the man they have lived with since their mother was incarcerated.
- Clifton is arrested for sexually molesting Della one time, after Suki takes a photo for evidence.
- Clifton has been molesting Suki for years.
- Suki attempts suicide with a knife and Della witnesses it. Suki spends weeks in a psychiatric hospital and improves.
- Della likes to cuss. It allows her to release her anger. The cuss words are replaced with the word “snow.” For example, Della might call someone an asshole in real life, but in the book, she calls him a “snowman.”
- This book also deals with consent in the school setting as well. Trevor, a classmate of Della’s, pinches girls in the back where their bras would be, should they be wearing one. As Della learns about consent in therapy, she teaches the girls in her class (and the staff at the school) that Trevor has no right to touch them without permission.
- Suki and Della get tattoos (yes, real tattoos) to symbolize their journey of growth and healing.
- The supporting characters in this book are genuine, authentic, and are the people that give hope for healing: Suki’s boss/Della’s basketball mentor at the Y, Maybelline (the deli worker), Teena (neighbor), therapist, and most importantly, Francine, the foster parent.
- (A bonus!) It does have a realistic, yet positive, ending for these two sisters.
Let me say that this book is extremely important. It will hopefully help those that have experienced an Adverse Childhood Experience, or ACE, heal and learn. It may help others recognize the importance (and difficulty) of reporting abuse. It may be helpful to those living in foster homes. It may help others who have experienced or witnessed attempts at suicide and the aftermath it leaves behind.
However, a parent or caregiver should be aware of the issues in this book. It would be best to read it together, and that’s IF you feel your child can handle it. While the recommendations for this book are for 10-14, I noticed on Goodreads that the recommendation in the U.K. is for 12 and up. While we know that there are many (too many) 10-year old Dellas in the world, this book is a LOT to handle for many middle grade readers, especially if read independently.
Here, author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley shares her thoughts on why this book is appropriate for even 10-year olds.
While I give this book a 5/5, something to note is the 4.73/5 rating on Goodreads. With 3,445 raters, that might be the highest rated book I’ve read in a long time. It has 7 starred reviews. Wowzas!
“Della’s matter-of-fact narration manages to be as funny and charming as it is devastatingly sad. . . . This is a novel about trauma and the scars it leaves on bodies, minds and hearts. But more than that, it’s a book about resilience, strength and healing.” —New York Times Book Review
Braden, Ann. The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Sky Pony, 2018Bradley,
Kimberly Brubaker. Fighting Words. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020
DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie. Candlewick, 2015.
DiCamillo, Kate. Raymie Nightingale Trilogy. Candlewick, 2019.