Book Review: True True by Don P. Hooper
In this powerful and fast-paced YA contemporary debut, a Black teen from Brooklyn struggles to fit in at his almost entirely-white Manhattan prep school, resulting in a fight and a plan for vengeance.
This is not how seventeen-year-old Gil imagined beginning his senior year—on the subway dressed in a tie and khakis headed towards Manhattan instead of his old public school in Brooklyn. Augustin Prep may only be a borough away, but the exclusive private school feels like it’s a different world entirely compared to Gil’s predominately Caribbean neighborhood in Brooklyn.
If it weren’t for the partial scholarship, the school’s robotic program and the chance for a better future, Gil wouldn’t have even considered going. Then after a racist run-in with the school’s golden boy on the first day ends in a fight that leaves only Gil suspended, Gil understands the truth about his new school—Augustin may pay lip service to diversity, but that isn’t the same as truly accepting him and the other Black students as equal. But Gil intends to leave his mark on Augustin anyway.
If the school isn’t going to carve out a space for him, he will carve it out for himself. Using Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as his guide, Gil wages his own clandestine war against the racist administration, parents and students, and works with the other Black students to ensure their voices are finally heard. But the more enmeshed Gil becomes in school politics, the more difficult it becomes to balance not only his life at home with his friends and family, but a possible new romance with a girl he’d move mountains for. In the end, his war could cost him everything he wants the most.
Almost nothing makes me more furious than watching educators be racist, classist, or otherwise cruel and unsupportive of ALL students—whether in real life or in books. So to watch Gil, who is Black, struggle to get through his days at his new overwhelmingly white prep school and find very little support—to in fact find all kinds of aggressions both micro and macro—made me so mad. And Gil is mad about it, too, but he does something about it.
Gil and some of his peers work hard to bring attention to the racism at school, even though it’s pretty clear that basically no one in position of authority is interested in hearing about it or believing it. These adults say things like, “And I thought you were one of the good ones” and kinds of other racist garbage that will make you want to jump into this book and kick someone. Gil knows it’s not fair that public schools don’t have the resources that private schools do, that it’s not fair that to get the best education he can, the best opportunities he can, he has to enroll in a school that doesn’t even want him there and certainly won’t do much to actually help him succeed. And when he and his friends suggest new things for the school, like not just a trip for students to check out the Ivys but a trip to check out HBCUs too, they’re not that THAT is reverse racism, it’s not inclusive. You know people are straight up awful when they start throwing around the term “reverse racism.”
Every move they make to try to shine a light on life at their school is met with punishment, threats, “consequences,” and denial. Gil and his friends are looking to be heard, not just written off, not just used for good publicity whenever their school needs to show how “diverse” it is. And if no one is willing to listen? Well, Gil and company will make them. There are so many other things going on in this story—family issues, health issues, dating drama, etc—but the heart of the story, the piece that drives it all, is this situation at school. No one should have to work so hard to be allowed to thrive in an allegedly supportive environment. No one should have to put up with what Gil does, what his peers do. No one should have to figure out what extreme they are willing to go to in order to be taken seriously. But Gil is persistent and determined and works to make life at his new school not just better for him but for all the marginalized students who go there. A fast-paced, fury-inspiring read.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/01/2023
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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