Book Review: Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King
Publisher’s Book Description:
Award-winning author Amy Sarig King takes on censorship and intolerance in a novel she was born to write.
Everyone in town knows and fears Ms. Laura Samuel Sett. She is the town watchdog, always on the lookout for unsavory words and the unsavory people who use them.
She is also Mac’s sixth-grade teacher.
Mac and his friends are outraged when they discovered that their class copies of Jane Yolen’s THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC have certain works blacked out. Mac has been raised by his mom and grandad to call out things that are wrong, so he and his friends head to the principal’s office to protest the censorship. Her response isn’t reassuring — so the protest grows.
In ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES, acclaimed author A.S. King shows all the ways truth can be hard… but still worth fighting for.
Regular TLT readers know that in the Jensen household, we are tried and true A. S. King fans. But I try to go into every book review with a critical eye and to look at each individual work honestly and with little bias. The thing is, King never disappoints. And here again, she does not disappoint. This book is a triumph.
On it’s surface, this is a timely and relevant book about book censorship, which you may be aware is roaring through our public school and public library systems as we speak. If you Google Book Bans you will find tons of articles about very real book bans happening across the United States today. This past year has seen some of the highest number of book bans that we have seen in my professional career spanning 30 years (almost), and perhaps even since the early 1900s. And this book is a searing, honest, relevant and inspiring look at that topic. I found the commentary to be thoughtful. And I love how King gives voice to young activists and has them standing up for themselves while being supported by a variety of adults in their lives. Empowering teens is what I’m here for so I love the ways this book discusses the issues and demonstrates to readers that they can be active, even at a young age, in shaping the world they want to live in.
But this book is not just about book banning, it’s a moving story of a young teen boy trying to figure out who he is and navigating family, friendship, first crushes, and his own emotions as he transitions into adolescence. It’s a powerful and inspiring look at the inner lives of teen boys and it moved me at times to tears. At other times, I cheered for our Mac, who is genuine, authentic, inspiring while also being complicated, complex, at times messy and flawed.
I also loved Mac’s grandpa, who is an elder who helps Mac navigate his life with inspiration, realism, and honesty. There is a scene where Mac’s grandpa shouts all the things he’s ashamed of and kind of confesses his sins in an effort to show Mac that it’s okay to feel and be authentic. Mac’s grandfather takes Mac on a journey that asks Mac, and us as the reader, to investigate and move away from toxic masculinity. In asking Mac to be honest about himself, he is also giving us the reader to be more honest and authentic with ourselves; what a gift to give young male readers (and all readers really) in this time where the patriarchy tries to force men into one type of box, which arguably isn’t going well when you look at the sheer number of men breaking out into angry mass shooter episodes. Through Mac’s grandpa, Mac is given permission to develop into a different and more well rounded type of young man, one who is given permission and the tools to navigate a complex emotional inner life.
There are a ton of issues addressed in this book, in part because book banners are never really about just banning books, but about control and power. And we get a look at that in some ways from his teacher, Ms. Sett. Ms. Sett wants to control everything from how much candy people eat, to pizza delivery, to the color of the houses in the community. It’s not just that she wants to protect the kids from certain words in a book, she wants to create so much control under the pretense that she is protecting the kids. Readers who are paying attention to our current politics will see parallels and there is so much meaningful discussion to be had around this book.
I can not recommend this book highly enough. Not just because of it’s relevance, but because of the deeply rich and moving beats that appear on every page of this story. From friendship to family and every moment in between, this is such a richly rewarding book. It’s deep and luscious in the representation of every element of adolescent life.
I came for the discussion of book banning, and walked away with so much more: a happy heart, hope, and the courage to fight another day for the power of story and the freedom to read freely.
Coming September 6, 2022 from Scholastic Press
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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