KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES is an odd, bittersweet book. I wasn't sure what to make of it while reading it, and to be honest, I'm still kind of trying to figure out my thoughts. King is a young boy living in Louisiana, struggling to deal with his grief over his older brother's death. That's not his only problem, either. He's alienated his best friend by outing him as gay, partially out of fear that his own sexuality might also come into question, as well. Add to that the matter of black idea and intersectionality, the always-grim topic of child abuse, and some magic realism (is King's brother really a dragonfly?) and you have a surprisingly dark children's book about some pretty serious topics.
First, kudos to Scholastic. I think I've given them several shout-outs this year, all well deserved. The Scholastic books I remember from my youth were all fairly milquetoast, but now it seems like their acquisitions department is keen on putting out books that talk about ethnicity, sexuality, diversity, and other relevant topics, all with great stories and told in a way that's easy for kids to read and understand. That is so important, and I love it.
I mostly liked this book. King is a relatable character and I think his struggle to reconcile his sexuality with the homophobia that is present in black culture was really well done. He's also a flawed and morally complex protagonist, doing what he thinks is right at some points, but acting selfishly and in his own interests at others. I liked how right and wrong was discussed in this book, as well as the coming of age story revolving around multiple identities, and I liked how these matters impacted his relationships with other characters in the book, most notably his family (especially his father), his ex-best-friend, Sandy, and his friends, Jasmine, Camille, and Darrell. If it has a downside, it's that the dreamy style and intentional quirkiness sometimes felt a little much, and it's a middle grade novel so it definitely felt young in terms of audience, but it's well-written, and doesn't condescend to its would-be young readers, so I ended up enjoying this much more than I anticipated.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3 out of 5 stars