A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson, is a fast-paced, complex mystery set in both the Jim Crow South and the present, and it's garnered stellar reviews. The main characters are two smart, savvy African American kids who love books and brainteasers. The story deals frankly and thoughtfully with both subtle and blatant racism in the 1950s and today. Most racial slurs are alluded to, not spelled out, though one character is called "tar baby," and another, "darkie lover." Some whites threaten a young black girl with a doll that has a noose around her neck. Characters also deal with divorce, bullying by peers, and gay identity. Though the issues are serious, they're woven skillfully into a suspenseful, page-turning plot, and there's warmth and lightness in the families and friendships.
What's the story?
In THE PARKER INHERITANCE, 12-year-old Candice has to spend the summer in Lambert, South Carolina, due to her parents' divorce. When she and her mom take up residence in her deceased grandmother's house, Candice finds a letter alluding to a town tragedy and offering clues to a mysterious fortune. Candice teams up with bookish neighbor Brandon, and the two ingeniously puzzle out clues, scour the internet, and sift through old yearbooks and photos. Scenes shift easily between past and present as they piece together the story of an African American family that was driven out of town during the Jim Crow 1950s. What happened? Why? Who's the mysterious donor, and what's his relationship to the town's history?
Is it any good?
This page-turning mystery skillfully braids two time periods for maximum suspense, while offering candid, complex portrayals of racial interactions and history. In The Parker Inheritance, the two main kids are smart, savvy, and plucky as they puzzle out a mystery and bring to light a racist incident that reverberated through their town more than half a century ago. Author Varian Johnson does not shy away from difficult issues, and his take on race is nuanced. In the earlier history, some light-skinned blacks opt to pass as white, the African American characters are aware of relative skin shade, and though some fight for school integration, others have strong affection for their all-black schools and communities.
Though the multimillion-dollar prize for solving the puzzle (promised in the found letter) is a somewhat unrealistic fairy tale element, it adds fun, ups the stakes, and spurs suspense. The chapters set in the 1950s provide a compelling history lesson for today's kids. African American readers will recognize themselves and their families in the warm, playful banter and dialogue, and in the exchanges the characters have with the wider world. This vivid story will stick with readers long past the last page.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the racial issues in The Parker Inheritance. What challenges did the Washington family have in the 1950s? How did they deal with them? How do Candice and Brandon experience racism today, and how are their responses similar or different?
What do you think about the light-skinned African American characters who passed for white in the 1950s? What did they gain? What did they lose? What choice do you think you would have made?
What do you think about the character Chip? How does he misunderstand some of his interactions with African Americans?
- Author: Varian Johnson
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
- Publication date: March 27, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (abridged), iBooks, Kindle
Themes & Topics
For kids who love mysteries and stories that deal with racism
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.