A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's Fighting Words won a 2021 Newbery Honor. It's a realistic depiction of two sisters, 10 and 16, recovering from years of sexual abuse and a sexual assault. Talking about abuse as a way to start healing from it, and maybe as a way to start having it happen less often are central themes. One assault is described with details about hand placement and removing shorts and underwear without mentioning sensitive body parts. A suicide attempt mentions a knife plunging and blood spurting. Readers learn some details about the long process of recovery after a suicide attempt. Parental loss from incarceration is another prominent theme along with drug addiction and escaping from an explosion cause by "cooking meth." Coping with a bully who assaults classmates is another theme. Overall messages are positive about how healing is difficult but definitely possible, about finding the courage to change things and heal by speaking out, and make it clear that being abused is never the child's fault. Readers will learn a lot about the effects of addiction and abuse, and about how to help someone who's experienced those things, or how to seek help if they've experienced them themselves.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
FIGHTING WORDS is the story of how fourth-grader Della finds the courage to tell her story by talking about some of the hardest things anyone could try to talk about. After their mother was sent to prison in another state for crimes related to her addiction to crystal meth, Della and her sister Suki, who's six years older than Della, lived with a man who wasn't their father and who sexually abused Suki over the course of many years. Then one night he tried to do the same to Della and was caught in the act. Della and Suki managed to escape to a friend's house, and now they're in a stable situation with foster mother Francine. But that doesn't mean everything is sunshine and rainbows now. In fact, the worst is yet to come. As Della tries to process her feelings and understand what happened to her and her sister, she learns the power of speaking up and speaking out. She also learns that it takes a lot of courage to talk about bad things that no one, especially Suki, wants to think about. When the time comes, can she be brave enough?
Is it any good?
With elegant simplicity that's raw and completely believable, author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a harrowing story of abuse and the healing power of words. There's no melodrama and no sugar coating, just Della's rock-solid voice guiding the reader to empathy and understanding as she herself tries to understand her past, her present, and to have hope for her future. By tackling difficult subjects like abuse, addiction, and suicide simply, directly, and honestly, Della's story will help lots of kids understand that they're not the only ones, that it wasn't their fault, and that they can heal.
The ways that Della's experience at school parallels some of the issues created by sexual abuse will help young readers understand big concepts like consent and speaking up instead of lashing out. They'll also learn a lot about how to help someone who's hurting inside, how to be a good friend, and how important it is to have someone who loves you, who you love back.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Fighting Words. Why is child abuse, especially sexual abuse, hard to talk about? Is Della right when she says people don't want to know about it?
Why did Trevor get away with pinching girls' backs for so long? What finally made him stop? Have you ever seen anyone snapping bras, or has anyone ever done it to you? How did you feel, or what did you think you'd feel if it happened to you?
Suicide is another topic that's hard to talk about. Why is that? What can you do to help someone who's hurting inside? Where can you get help when you're hurting?
- Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: August 11, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 12
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: January 25, 2021
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