What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this National Book Award finalist features horrifying child abuse, and a girl admits right in the beginning that she killed her stepfather before revealing the story of what he did to her family. There is some drinking and swearing, a bulimic character, and Karina and her female friend kiss, sleep in the same bed, and look at pornography together -- but it's really the images of the abuse that mark this book for mature readers. It's a moving story with a hopeful ending as the abused sisters realize they are "guardian angels for one another" and they are going to work to protect each other and the other people they care about.
What's the story?
Karina lives in New York in the 1980s, but her family comes from Haiti where she says adults often use corporal punishment on their kids. But her stepfather's beatings are extreme -- one beating left Karina with head trauma that causes her to have fainting spells. When her stepfather nearly kills her older sister Enid, someone anonymously turns him in. But Karina's mother and relatives pressure her to cover up the truth from social workers and even a judge, because they need him to help pay the bills. Her mother says she won't let her stepfather beat them anymore, but what will happen when he comes home?
Is it any good?
There are some complicated ideas here that require a sophisticated reader: For example, after Karina murders her stepfather, her life -- and the lives of her family members -- is greatly improved, and she suffers no guilt or consequences because of his death. Also, the author touches on some culturally sensitive issues around parenting and discipline that parents may want to help their teens sort through. Even so, this is a vivid and powerful novel that readers will remember. Karina is a very real narrator, made so believable by the casual way she drops in details about her horrific situation, like that you have to "try and stand still when a belt is coming at you."
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the intense subject matter. Many kids have to live in abusive homes, but it may be disturbing for some readers to learn Karina's story, especially since it is told in vivid detail. Who should get to decide if a book is appropriate to read?
This book's protagonist admits right on the first page of her story that she killed her stepfather. Later she details how abusive he was to her family. Does this justify his murder?