Tight

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Tight Book Poster Image
Authentic, nuanced tale of Brooklyn boy has lots of heart.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lightly sprinkled with Spanish vocabulary: fuego, chanclas, jamón, queso, chicarrones. Lots of current urban slang, readily understandable from context. Superhero characters and their powers. Some justice system concepts: prior arrests, probation, police files on underage kids.

Positive Messages

People are complicated: "Just because people bug out doesn't make them all bad." When you get angry, it doesn't solve anything to get physical. "When your father gets physical, what happens?...Think about if he solves a problem, or makes a problem bigger." "Always talk it out when you can." When you start to get upset, breathe. When someone gets aggressive with you, you can defuse violence by stepping back and saying, "My bad." "My bad usually relaxes someone who is tight and starting to hype themselves up." Strong message that it's important to do well in school.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bryan's a thoughtful main character who articulates his feelings, loves to read, tries to do well in school and stay out of fights, and has a strong moral compass. Ma's loving, makes sure Bryan does his schoolwork, and communicates openly. Ma works at a community center and always helps others who are in need, even though she herself doesn't have much. Though Bryan's sister needles him, she comes to his aid when he's threatened. Another boy in school is a gentle soul like Bryan, and teaches him how to defuse situations when violence threatens.

Violence

Pa threatens to smack Bryan when he finds out Bryan’s skipping school. Pa gets arrested when he comes to the aid of a friend in a street fight and pulls a knife. Mike smacks another kid's neck. When Mike goads Bryan into a physical fight, Bryan's anger boils over and he pummels him.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The adult men who hang out outside the bodega drink. "Some are a bit bent with that same smell Pa has when he drinks."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tight, by Torrey Maldonado, is a novel about a relatable Afro-Puerto Rican sixth-grade boy walking the tricky tightrope of having friends while trying to live with "no drama" in his Brooklyn housing project. The author works as a middle school teacher in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up, and has his finger on the pulse of this age group, expertly capturing Bryan's voice. Bryan and his friend Mike flirt with trouble. They skip school, forge absence notes from their moms, duck under subway turnstiles to avoid paying fares, dangerously ride on the outside of moving subway trains, and get into a physical fight. Bryan's dad has been incarcerated, and the book touches on food insecurity. But these harder-edged elements are balanced by the loving family that keeps a close watch on Bryan, and  by Bryan's thoughtful take on his circumstances as he navigates hard choices.

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What's the story?

Bryan, the narrator of TIGHT, is often taunted for being a mama's boy and "soft." Pa, who's recently returned home after being incarcerated, tries to tell Bryan that it's better to be feared than liked, but Bryan prefers "reading, being quiet, and chilling for forever." When Ma invites another boy, Mike, home for dinner, Bryan and Mike quickly bond over a shared love of comic book heroes, and Bryan at last has a friend. But then Mike starts pressuring Bryan to skip school, lie to Ma, and do other things he's not sure he’s comfortable with. Can Bryan figure out how to have a friend while staying true to what he knows is right?

Is it any good?

The heart of this winning story set in the Brooklyn projects is its sensitive, likable main character who narrates in a lively, authentic voice. Tight is finely calibrated, balancing its depiction of the fast, vibrant life in school and the streets with Bryan’s thoughtful articulation of his experiences and inner life. The characters' circumstances are never sugarcoated. Bryan's embarrassed to ask for credit when sent to buy meager groceries at the corner bodega. Pa's in and out of incarceration. Men and boys posture and threaten and fight. Sometimes Mike's a good friend, though other times he bullies Bryan and others. But throughout, there are characters who shine a light, suggesting peaceful ways of skirting trouble and handling tense circumstances, providing a beacon for readers, as well.

This book's a natural for boys, who'll appreciate its dissection of what it means to be male while they revel in all the superhero lore, and for urban kids of color who'll recognize themselves and their communities. But it's a compelling read for all, a universal middle-school story delivered in bouncy urban slang.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the comic book heroes in Tight. Do you like superhero comics and movies? What do you think Bryan, Mike, and the other boys in the book like about them? What shared interests do you and your friends have that help you bond?

  • Why do you think the other boys in the story accuse Bryan of being "soft"? Do you ever feel pressure to act differently than you want to? How does Bryan deal with that? What works for you?

  • Why do you think the author chose to write the book in Bryan’s own voice? Did having him as the narrator help you understand or like the character more? Did you recognize some of the slang he used? Were some words unfamiliar? Could you get their meaning from the context of the story?

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For kids who love middle school stories and books for boys

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