A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Instances of racism and homophobia teach readers unfamiliar with either about real-world experiences of black and gay young people.
There's no wrong way to be yourself. Seek out friendships and relationships with people who understand you and love you for all that you are. Some people will surprise you with acceptance and love when they find out you aren't who they thought you were. Life can get really, really hard. Unfair and terrible things may happen. But with time, and loving support, it will get better.
Positive Role Models
Seventh-grader King is mourning the recent death of his beloved older brother. He struggles with sadness, his identity, and the fear of losing his friends and parents if he tells the truth about himself. He sometimes makes hurtful choices, for which he eventually seeks to make amends. King's friend Sandy shows King how to have courage even when he's afraid, and King's friend Jasmine is thoughtful and forgiving. In terms of representation, King and his family are Black, as is Jasmine. Sandy and his family are White. Two characters identify as gay.
Violence & Scariness
The murder of a Black man by four White teens, including Sandy's older brother Mikey, is referenced a few times. The victim was beaten and dragged through the bayous tied to the back of a pickup truck. That is as graphic a description as it gets. There's some of scary tension when King interacts with Mikey (and later, with Sandy and Mikey's father), but the threat of racial violence is implied, and no harm comes to King.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Hand holding and cheek-kisses between opposite-gender middle-school-age teens.
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Products & Purchases
The names of various anime series are mentioned on occasion.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mikey Sanders, who's about 17 years old, is seen smoking or smells like cigarette smoke on two occasions.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Kacen Callendar's King and the Dragonflies won a 2021 Coretta Scott King Author Honor. It tells the story of King, a studious seventh-grader who's mourning the recent death of his treasured older brother, Khalid, while also navigating normal teenage "stuff" -- like parents who don't get him, racial and sexual identity, and friendship troubles. And then, his former friend Sandy disappears, plunging King into a situation that threatens to reveal secrets and destroy relationships all across town. A father physically abuses his gay son. A violent, racist murder is referred to: Four White teens beat then tied a Black man to the back of a pickup truck and drug him around the bayou until he was dead. The owner of the truck is Sandy's older brother, Mikey, so interactions between King and Mikey carry a lot of scary tension, though no violence occurs. Mild sexual content includes hand-holding and cheek-kissing. No language concerns.
Is It Any Good?
This enchanting and unforgettable book pulls readers in from the first page. Kacen Callendar's writing in King and the Dragonflies is lush and lyrical, a joy to read solely for the beauty of the sentences. Especially when King remembers his brother, the text takes on a magical feel that magnifies King's grief for the reader. Young people will appreciate the inclusion of queer characters who take different paths to coming to terms with being gay and the insightful portrayal of the intersections of race and sexuality. Callender portrays King's family with a noteworthy sensitivity. They have problems -- namely, the crushing grief of Khalid's death, King's father's homophobia and sexism, and King's mother's acceptance of those things --but it's clear that this is a family that can heal and grow together.
There are several sob-worthy passages, though ultimately this is a deeply hopeful and inspiring tale that will leave readers smiling, even if it's through happy tears.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.