Summary: Take Back the Block
In Chrystal Giles debut middle-grade novel, young Wes is getting ready to take back the block! Wes is your average sixth grader, except his style is fly. He may not win awards for being the best at math, but he will win the Best Dressed award. He also has a great crew of friends with whom he has lived in Kensington Oaks all his life. His parents believe in getting involved with social activism and are always dragging Wes to one protest after another.
After initial major resistance to neighborhood activism, Wes is forced to dive in when developers threaten to tear down his neighborhood. The attempt at gentrification begins to divide the community as some members elect to sell their properties while others flat out refuse. Up close and personal with the effects of gentrification, Wes and his friends are moved to use their voices.
My favorite element of this story is the community, both Kensington Oaks and Wes’s group of friends. One of his friends Kari, essentially becomes homeless due to gentrification. At first Wes and his other friends are unaware of Kari’s situation, but I liked how the author sensitively addresses the entire situation. It was also interesting to see the variety of socio-economic circumstances among Wes’s friends, and how they manage those differences while keeping their bond.
Still, at the center of this book’s plot is gentrification and the activism it fosters among the kids. My problem with activism books is that they can sometimes be unrealistic in the expectations they create. However, I thought that the author did a fine job in managing expectations with the results of the kids’ efforts while still encouraging them to do their part for their community. Wes is also a spirited protagonist and his lively narration throughout the story keeps things light and fun even when they aren’t necessarily so.
Overall: Take Back the Block
Take Back the Block is an insightful, inspiring, and hearty middle-grade book about community, friendship, and speaking up. This realistic debut also touches on poverty and homelessness as well as navigating a pre-pubescent crush. If you enjoy reading books by Black authors about social issues, then you should definitely add this one to your TBR!
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I received an eARC of this book from the publisher and author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read this book or any other middle-grade books about gentrification? I also liked Five Things About Ava Andrews.
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