Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes

Garvey's dad always wanted his son to be a jock, someone he could shoot baskets with and bond with over sports talk. But middle grader Garvey would much rather settle in with a good sci-fi novel, learn more about astronomy and listen to his favorite music. Garvey has a best friend, Joe, who shares his love of music, and with whom he likes to play chess and make up knock knock jokes.  Garvey's older sister Angie is the family jock - a great soccer player. Why can't his dad be happy with that and just accept Garvey for who he is?

It's a question that causes Garvey to overeat, pushing his feeling down with food and soda. Kids have always teased and bullied him because of his weight, even his sister indulges in what she calls good natured kidding about it, never thinking about how it hurts her brother.

So Garvey is understandably dreading the new school year that is about to start. And the cruel teasing begins immediately. But at least there is Joe to eat lunch with and Joe who encourages Garvey to try out for the chorus. In chorus, Garvey meets Manny, an albino boy. The two become good friend, hanging out together when Joe has a schedule change. Manny has accepted that he has albinism and just doesn't care what others think about it.

In chorus, Garvey learns to accept what he can to well (with a little help from his friends), and to his surprise he discovers his dad also has a love of music, especially the music of Luther Vandross. When Garvey is given the coveted tenor solo for the chorus's school concert, he finally finds a way to connect with his father and make him proud of who Garvey is. And the confidence Garvey gains from his talented singing begins to change how people see and treat Garvey in school, as well.

Garvey's Choice is a short, poignant novel in verse about friendship and self-acceptance and I think Garvey's journey is one that many readers will be able to relate to, whether they sooth their hurt feelings with food or other means. The middle school years are a time when kids are trying to not stand out from the crowd so it is encouraging to read a novel that deals with the kind of bullying being different can lead to.

Nikki Grimes is one of my favorite verse novelists. She gives her readers not just a wonderful story, but she also introduces them to different verse forms in her books and does them all so well. For Garvey's Choice, she used Tanka, an ancient Japanese form meaning "short poem." Grimes gives a fuller explanation of this poetic form and her modern use of it at the end of the book. Short poems also make this an excellent novel for reluctant readers.

You might want to consider pairing Garvey's Choice with Planet Middle School, another novel in verse about a young girl entering a new phase in her life. In my review of that book, I said that one of the things I loved about Planet Middle School is that "the protagonist is African American but it is not about being African American per se, it is about being a girl entering a new phase of her life and that makes the story really universal." The same holds true for Garvey's Choice.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


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