Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewel Parker Rhodes

Donte, the “Black Brother” of a biracial family, must decide if his identity will be based on his color or on his character.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewel Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown, 2020, 233 pages

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-15

Life was better for Donte in Boston, where the white population was one of many ethnic colors. Now that his biracial parents have moved to the suburbs, the prep school Donte and his older brother Trey attend is even whiter than their neighborhood. Olive-skinned Trey fits in: he aces his classes and stars in basketball. Donte not only sticks out but is also labeled a troublemaker because of his darker shade. To make it worse, Alan, the hotshot star of the fencing team, makes it his mission to taunt both brothers, especially Donte, at every turn. It’s because of Alan that Donte makes the acquaintance of the police and could even face time in juvvie. That forces a decision on him: he could go down the path almost everybody at Middlefield Prep expects him to take. Or . . . he could try to beat Alan at his own game.

Donte has a strong, loving family: white father, black mother, supportive brother. They have his back, but Donte has to decide for himself if he’s going to let color define him—or rather, if he’s going to let a bigot’s view of color do the defining. Though painfully aware, and made more aware, of his country’s sad racist history, he learns to locate his identity in family and friendship, not color alone. “I know who I am—Donte Ellison, son of William and Denise Ellison, brother of Trey Ellison . . . Me.” What matters is that he is seen and evaluated as himself, and that’s the real championship.

The stream-of-consciousness, first-person narrative style sometimes becomes a bit distracting, but this is an uplifting, family-positive story (in which we learn quite a bit about fencing!).

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.75
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.25

Also at Redeemed Reader:

We’ve also reviewed these novels by by Jewel Parker Rhodes: the Reconstruction novel Sugar and Towers Falling, a multi-perspective novel about September 11.

Black Brother is a fine example of a protagonist finding his identity challenged and shaped by sports. For more examples, see list of Sports Books that Pack a Punch!

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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