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Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes – Book Review

  • Title: Black Brother, Black Brother
  • Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Release Date: March 3, 2020

RATING: 5 STARS

Donte Ellison and his brother Trey attend Middlefield Prep, a private school in the suburbs of Boston. Despite being brothers, they have very different experiences. Trey presents as white and is easily accepted by his classmates and teachers. Donte presents as black and is bullied and ostracized for it – by both students and staff. Taunted as the “black brother,” Donte struggles against not only the overt racism he directly encounters but also the subversive racism that permeates the privileged institution. When Donte is blamed for yet another incident in class, the fallout sets him on a path that changes his life and the lives of those around them. 

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a moving story about race, privilege, and family while also highlighting the power of sport. Rhodes uses fencing as a metaphor throughout to serve as the primary vehicle for invoking the narrative’s complex themes. It is a brilliant choice that simultaneously demonstrates how sports can transform young people even as it reflects and reinforces societal issues, such as institutional racism, discrimination, and the effects of privilege. This is not just a novel about sports though. In fact, the relationships amongst its characters stand as the novel’s true strength. The portrayal of those ties strengthens the novel’s message. Rhodes realistically depicts the positive and negative relationships that develop across family, friends, and school. Meanwhile, a focus on the positive relationships enhances the novel’s message, provoking readers to ponder the Dontes of the world that go without such a strong support system. The end result is a powerful, poignant, and hopeful story that is layered and provocative. For the truth it is willing to tell about what it means to be a black boy in a white world, Black Brother, Black Brother demands to be read again and again.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and publisher, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, for an eARC of this book!

Classroom Applications

  • Cross-curricular Study – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of implicit bias and institutional racism.
  • Literature Circles – Use novel for small groups or choice reading with a variety of books about societal issues faced by African-Americans today.
  • Book Club or Book Exchange – Share the novel with students that enjoy reading realistic fiction and about sports.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • Wealth and inequality
  • Institutional racism
  • Stereotypes and implicit bias

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Black Brother, Black Brother. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Ghost Boysby Jewell Parker Rhodes (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Track Series by Jason Reynolds (Character Connections, Themes)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Jackpot by Nic Stone(Character Connections, Themes)

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