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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee.

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”- James Baldwin

Some debut novels are written and go overlooked, never to be heard from again. This post I would like to discuss author Lisa Moore Ramee’s beautifully crafted story and timely work of middle-grade fiction, A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE.
This novel should be on every public library and school library shelves pronto!

Our main character, twelve-year-old Shayla, is adjusting to all of the highs and lows as a young black adolescent girl in seventh grade can manage. She has two best friends, Julia (Japanese American) and Isabella (Puerto Rican), they call themselves the United Nations because of their diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Shayla’s home life includes her older sister Hana, who is not someone to hold her discourse when addressing Shalya about her deficiency of black friends, loving and nurturing parents who are open and honest with their daughters about the brutal facts of society. Conversations at the dinner table may include reciting Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Baldwin one day, and the next day they are discussing a trial and protests in their city involving the shooting of an unarmed black man.

Life at school for Shayla is where she has the most awkward situations and challenges. She joins the track team, has a crush on a classmate, and with the slow revelation that her friend Julia is outgrowing their friendship cause friction within her small group. It is Hana’s involvement with the Black Lives Movement, which draws a wedge between Shayla and Hana until the decision of the trial causes significant protests, and Shayla makes a vital choice to wear a black armband as a silent protest — creating a significant shift at school, leaving students to take sides. Instead of the United Nations, it shifts to the Divided Nations.

When a dress code policy is issued not allowing students to wear black armbands at school, Shayla takes a stand and continues to wear the armband despite the new policy. When Shayla and some of her classmates mobilize together and protest at school, giving out black armbands notwithstanding the policy, Shayla is called to the principals’ office for being defiant. By the end of the story, readers see the changes in Shayla as a young girl who finds confidence and embraces her experiences as hurdles; falling, then getting back up to continue the race. Moreover, crossing the finish line, realizing that some things are worth the trouble.

The story deals with issues about racial stereotypes, first crushes, ethnic identity, and friendships in a carefully structured way for middle-grade students to digest.

Of course, there are going to be comparisons to THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. There is nothing wrong with that association, but this book stands on its own. It is a compelling, witty, poignant novel

Now, let us discuss. We want to hear from our readers.

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Annisha Jeffries About Annisha Jeffries

Annisha Jeffries is the head of the youth services department at Cleveland Public Library. She was a member of the 2007 ALSC Board and served on several selection committees, including the 2018 Caldecott Committee. A 2000-2001 Spectrum Scholarship recipient, Jeffries is currently the Chair of the Norman A, Sugarman Children's Biography Award.
She can be reached at annishamj@gmail.com

Comments

  1. What really impressed me about this book was Shayla’s gradual development from a passive rules follower to a young lady ready to stand up and speak out for what she believes in. I thought it was very realistic and makes the payoff of Shayla refusing to remove her armband very satisfying. Ramee uses universal experiences like dealing with changes in friendships and navigating first crushes to build Shayla’s confidence in speaking up for herself and making her voice heard.

    • Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

      What did you think about the way Shayla’s mother handled the situation with the Principal? I was not expecting that.Some of her self doubts at times was heartbreaking. I think Hana’s influence was the key component that sparked her resistance.

      • I also was not expecting Shayla’s mother’s reaction – throughout the book it was Shayla’s dad and sister who were more vocal about injustice (the school only teaching white men, etc.). But I think the dress code incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The school was “attacking” her baby and Mama Bear came out. Maybe at that point in the book, Shayla’s mom saw some changes happening in her daughter, knew that it was inevitable that she was growing up and wanting to take a stand for herself and decided to support her.

        I also thought Shayla’s gradual change in opinion on Bernard was an effective parallel to race relations in their community. She had prejudices against him and had formed opinions that were hard for her to change, but when she started really seeing him and seeing how he was treated by the school authority figures, she realized that she had been wrong about him and wanted to stand up for him.

      • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

        Agree that the mother’s reaction rang true. I also liked the moment when Shayla’s dad, who “hardly ever comes into my room,” tries to find the words to explain the verdict to her. And does his best but can’t really solve it for her. Other times, though, I felt that adult characters were less fully developed, serving more to frame discussions. The kids were the focus here, though, and the teachers and principal, and for some parts her parents, do help to bring perspectives to what Shayla goes through.

  2. I loved this book! I agree it is very tempting to label it as THE HATE YOU GIVE JR. but it has a particular middle school charm that makes it so special. I think a lot of people will relate to a rule-follower finding her voice. And the way that friendship and crushes were handled in the story was SO perfectly middle school. Really well done.

    • Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

      Yes, Kari, middle school charm was the key ingredient to the story. Ramee did a fine job keeping the various plots focused without total confusion. Shayla is such a strong character and believable.

    • Yes, I definitely agree with this. Shayla’s experiences were so universal – situations that lots of middle school girls could relate to – but they all worked towards building her character for the climax of the book.

  3. This one has been a favorite of my students!

  4. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Annisha writes that the novel is “carefully structured way for middle-grade students to digest” and I think that’s just right. It’s a thought-provoking look at how racial issues play out in a middle school setting, in a family, and in the mind of the protagonist. But it’s filled with engaging characters, humor, and themes about friendship…and those themes are intertwined with the race issues. I realized how well that works when Shayla brings in the black armbands. The reactions from the people she knows are varied and significant. And because we know these people well, the choices resonate in different ways. Even though she narrates, we get to see Shayla’s growth through the things the does and how she reacts to events, not just from when she tells us what she thinks.

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