Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – Book Review

Title: Fighting Words

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Publisher: Dial Books

Release Date: August 11, 2020

RATING: 5 Stars

Della and Suki are sisters bound by love, the desire to protect one another, and – unfortunately – trauma. After escaping their mother’s abusive boyfriend, the sisters find themselves in foster care under the care of Francine. As ten-year-old Della and sixteen-year-old Suki adjust to their new lives, they begin to cope with and process the true horrors of their past. Grief, anger, and confusion threaten to take even more from the girls until they finally start to get the help they need. Ultimately, the help allows them to start envisioning a future they want to see instead of living in the dark shadows of the past.

Fighting Words is a challenging, gut-wrenching novel. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley creates a memorable cast of characters, a spirited and honest perspective through Della, and a plot, brimming with emotion. It is hard to read and even harder to put down. The nature of the topics discussed and the depth and honesty with which they are treated rightly make it complex and mature. Is Fighting Words middle grade? Yes. Should young people read it? Depends on the young person. Will people try to ban it? Absolutely. Will others want to see the book in everyone’s hands? Without a doubt.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s novel casts an important light on topics that remain woefully unaddressed in society today. As Bradley’s note at the books’ conclusion emphasizes, the statistics on sexual abuse are staggering and other traumatic circumstances affect more children than should be accepted in our society. Therefore, Fighting Words is a perfect book for some – young people that are in search for words to tell their story, trusting that someone will listen; young people that need to see themselves in a story and walk away with the hope that happy endings are not just fiction; or young people that are mature enough to read and understand the privilege of their life.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and publisher, Dial Books, for an eARC of this book.

Classroom Applications

  • Book Club or Book Exchange – Share the novel with students that enjoy reading realistic fiction.
  • Literature Circles – Use novel for small groups or choice reading with a variety of books that touch on characters coping with trauma.

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

  • Foster Care System
  • Trauma
  • Sexual Abuse Statistics and Resources for Help

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

  • A Child Called IT by Dave Pelzer (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Maybe He Just Likes You  by Barbara Dee (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Chirp by Kate Messner (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • When You Know What I Know by Sonja K. Solter (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)


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