By Sundee T. Frazier. Levine Querido, 2021. 248 pages. $17.99/hardcover or eBook. Recommended for ages 8–12.
Mighty Inside is a strong coming-of-age middle-grade book for sensitive readers. You might flinch when Melvin is bullied on his first day in a (mostly White) high school and cheer his parents’ sensible responses to racist taunts. You might wince when his voice is immobilized by the Stutter, nod when he seeks help to conquer his speech impediment, and cheer as he gains the confidence to introduce Rosa Parks to his community. This is a good story, steeped in the realities of 1955, when the image of Emmett Till’s tortured body on the cover of Jet magazine sends shock waves through the Black community in Spokane, Washington.
One her website Sundee T. Frazier writes, “I come from African-American and white people . . .so I have set out to depict my biracial, bicultural experience, to validate that experience for those who share it, and to shed light on that experience for others.” She embraces Black adolescence in all its complexity and weaves emotions into metaphors so skillfully that readers feel the angst without getting mired in the misery. Frazier masterfully amplifies the voices of kind, smart, ordinary families. Quaker grandparents will grin at Grandma Robinson’s spunk. Parents will recognize the challenges Claude and Claudine face and affirm their cooperative parenting style. For instance, they give each of their kids two middle names—one from each book—because Mom loves the Bible, and Dad loves Shakespeare.
Mighty Inside is immersive, inclusive storytelling at its best. Young stutterers will ache with Melvin. Musicians will enjoy his friendship with the Jewish Lenny who lives at the Harlem Club. Journalists will cheer for his sister Maisy, who writes for the A.M.E. church newsletter. Why should Quaker teens read it? To take comfort that they are not alone. Self-doubt is a widely shared communal experience, and Mighty Inside goes where words cannot. Why should adults read it? To increase empathy with young people of all ages and skin colors. Frazier’s fictional folks could easily be your neighbors.
Judith Favor is an octogenarian Friend, gratefully rooted and grounded in love through worship and service with Claremont (Calif.) Meeting. Her newest book is Friending Rosie: Respect on Death Row.