Survivor by Paul Langan. Langan packs a lot into this little book; it all works and the action keeps flowing. Chapter one finds Tarah stressing that her Uncle Rudy is coming to Aunt Deborah’s 90th birthday party and family reunion. Tarah has never told anyone what happened with Uncle Rudy when she was 6 years old, and now she’s having flashbacks. And she’s kinda cranky and paranoid cause she’s stressing. She’s now lying to her boyfriend Cooper, her mom, her best friend – well, everyone. She accuses Shanetta of stealing her boyfriend, and is giving Cooper the silent treatment alternating with nagging treatment. Langford writes, “In trying to avoid one mess, Tarah had created an even bigger one.” Tarah continues to struggle with doing the right thing until it becomes clear that she is not the only one that is in danger and she will do anything to protect someone else from the abuse. The resolution is believable and empowering. There is drama and action; hard stuff happens but family is loyal and honest, and friends are there for each other. Misunderstandings are cleared up, and characters realize how they have unfairly judged one another. The type is large but not babyish. The covers work – characters portrayed are solidly african american. The story is believable and is also comforting and the books don’t talk down. It’s kind of like Little House on the Prarie for urban teens – and I mean that in a good way. Reluctant readers love these books.
* Promises to Keep by Paul Langan. If it’s possible to have a best Bluford book (they are all good) – this might be it. No one like Tyray Hobbs, including himself. He is a bully. Once feared but at least respected outwardly, after a beat down in the school, where he was ridiculed and lost some of his fear factor, he is now completely outcast. Things are not good at home with a strict father who lectures him and a brother in jail. On the streets it’s not much better with Londell’s crew stealing from him and threatening him. There’s just Lark. She’s not the cutest girl in the class, but she seems to like him and even stick up for him after everything he’s done. He feels guilty for how he lied to her and stole her money – can he make anything right? What so perfect about these books is that they are action packed and realistic, as well as emotionally and psychologically accurate. There’s not a false note in the book.