Review – Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Digital Review Copy Details.

  • Title: Black Brother, Black Brother
  • Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Genre: Young Adult, Black Fiction, Sports
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Publication Date: 13 May 2021
  • Format: ebook
  • Pages: 240

The Short Review

I read Black Brother, Black Brother in one sitting and that should tell you something  – either it was a really short book or I couldn’t put it down. I was thoroughly captivated by this coming of age YA tale. The central themes for me were racism, colorism, family, injustice, self awareness and discovery.

My review is far too long, so if you want it in a nutshell. I love it and would recommend that you go out and read it right now, then give your copy to someone else to read.

What was powerful in this YA book was how it showed the reality of being black – regardless of your age your blackness defined you first and foremost. Not your personality, education, family or any other criteria.  And that definition limits you because preconceived ideas of what it means to be black and worse yet a black male invariably means negative stereotypes.

Another theme running throughout the book was of course, fencing.  It was good to see portrayed the mental as well as physical ability required to excel in this sport. Often you only see the physical exertion necessary to do well at sports. Additionally this book referenced the assumption that black children are good at sport.  No, let me clarify that, that they like and are good at some sports and not others. The myth around swimming is inexcusable.  The reality is you can only be good at an sport if you’ve had access to it. If availability or access is denied then the assumption shouldn’t be that you are not good.

How you can confound others by being yourself and not meeting their demands for preconceptions or stereotype, is a wonderful thing.

The Long Review

In summary Black Brother, Black Brother raised relevant and topical issues in a realistic and age appropriate way. It was ace, loved it.  I will be recommending this book endlessly.

I liked that the action focused firmly on Donte, it would have been easy to try to incorporate more of his family life: the details of the parents biracial relationship, what it was like for his brother Trey, who could pass for white, etc.  Instead, what we got was,  this is the  set up, a  normal version of a family with the focus on one of the members. 

Being a black male

The reader’s gaze was firmly on how life was for Donte as a black teen in contrast to a predominantly white environment.  We saw where appropriate how this affected other family members. Black Brother, Black Brother, showed, your life experience is personal to you and won’t be the same as your sibling despite having the same parents. Nor is every black experience the same. We are individuals afterall. 

Negative messages and images associated with being black

What was powerful in this YA book was how it showed the reality of being black – regardless of your age your blackness defined you first and foremost. Not your personality, education, family or any other criteria.  And that definition limits you because preconceived ideas of what it means to be black and worse yet a black male invariably means negative stereotypes. I will not list those stereotypes as many are so common that you will know at least one.

  It is infuriating as well as heart-breaking to be labelled and discriminated against for something you have no control over. How do you stop being black?  Because it doesn’t matter what you say or do, how much your behaviour is different to the ‘norm’ or rather stereotype, you will still look black, and thus be perceived that way. 

Realising as a teen what it’s like to be black

There were many moments that touched me, one being that Donte, knew to be scared when he was out during the day in his neighbourhood and the police went by.  He knew that he could be pulled over without cause and there wouldn’t be anything he could do about it, apart from modify his behevaour/ stance, become different, project a persona different to his own. Donte understands code switching, is  aware that profiling is just the first step in mistreatment that could occur.  Black men are limited in where they can be and what they can do without looking suspicious and up to no good.   How do you react, no how do you behave in the community when you know that people have such negative preconceptions  about you?

The death of George Floyd on 25th 2020 and many others in similar circumstances are all example of this.

There is so much to like about this book, and too much to say.  Which means that whilst this review is long, it easily could have been much wordier.

It was honest in emotions, there was the acknowledgement of the easier time that Trey had in certain situations and the envy that it raised. It showed us the parent’s fear for their children and how that manifested.  It showed us black adults and what they faced in the past and now.

The sports thing

And I haven’t even touched on fencing. Fencing was a draw. There is the assumption that black children are good at sport.  No, let me clarify that, that they like and are good at some sports and not others. The myth around swimming is inexcusable.  The reality is you can only be good at an sport if you’ve had access to it, if access to it is denied then the assumption shouldn’t be that you are not good at that sport. Clearly people can be athletic, good at physical activity but that is not

Homogeneity

Loved it, for the various representation of community. The balance. There is no one black experience and by that I mean the trope stereotype: the troubled black teen who lashes out mindless at the world and gets caught up in the justice system far too young. That is one black experience, whilst real has been done to death.  We want to see the lives of other black people because there isn’t just one narrative. Hearing the voices of others shows the similarities and differences within and between races. Likewise all white teens aren’t devious, underhand, privileged elites, coasting on their advantages. Obviously the ratio isn’t 50:50, but for every obnoxious Alan, there is a fair Dylan who wants to do the right thing and sometimes courage lets them down.

When seen in the context of school we see how environment and history: ‘this is the way we have always done it’ really influences and forms  behaviour. Alan’s parents funded the Fencing club, Alan whilst an excellent player but poor sports man is automatically the team captain. Should he have been? We have teachers pandering to the children of influential families. By having a small team, the school get to determine who can excel in this extra curricular activity,  keeping access to this sport a premium.

How you can confound others by being yourself and not meeting their demands for their preconceptions or stereotype.

 This story touched me in many ways.  Got to recommend it to Eldest, Youngest and wider family.

My thanks to NetGalley, the author and publisher for a digital copy of this book in return for a candid review.


4 Stars - Really Liked It
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Engrossed Reader

Female, in her 40's who reads when she can, often to the detriment of sleep. Enjoying most genres and formats with a preference for ebooks, mainly for convenience

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4 star rating explained

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