Kinda Like Brothers - Coe Booth

Kinda like enemies. Kinda like friends. Kinda like brothers.

Jarrett's mom takes care of foster babies. There's usually one or two hanging around for a few days or weeks until a more permanent home has been found, so Jarrett has learned not to get too attached. But one day, when his mother comes home with a young girl who just got out of the ER, her twelve-year old brother shows up as well, and nobody knows how long they'll be staying. Jarrett doesn't want to share his room, or his life, with Kevon, who seems to be better at almost everything. While Jarrett has become attached to Treasure, Kevon's little sister, things with Kevon just keep getting worse. Finally, Jarrett's mom and her boyfriend, take the kids on a camping trip to try and help them bond. But since Jarrett and Kevon don't trust each other, and each has secrets of their own, the whole bonding experience is continually undermined until they learn to stop keeping so much from each other. This is a wonderful story of friendship and family bonds, and the cost of secrets. 

Booth's novel is full of important life lessons, and while there are moments which feel overly didactic, I did appreciate her incorporation of racial politics, sexual exploration, and learning disabilities. For instance, during a meeting of young men learning about growing up, the leader, Terrence, is answering anonymous questions. One question reads, "What if I like being a boy . . . but I don't like girls?" Terrence replies: "You might start liking girls next month or next year. It doesn't matter. . . And remember, not every guy is gonna end up liking girls, and that's okay, too. You don't need to like girls to be a good man." While this does still reinforce a binary gender system (can you tell I've been too immersed in my dissertation lately?!), I appreciated the inclusion of sexual questioning. 

At first I found myself questioning how quickly Jarrett and Kevon would switch between getting along and totally hating each other, but then I remembered how old they are, and it made sense. Both boys are fully developed as characters, as are Jarrett's mother and boyfriend. I hoped for a bit more from Ennis, but he wasn't so underdeveloped that it did anything to ruin the story. As I said before, there were moments of didacticism that I did feel pulled the story off course, and perhaps this is because Booth is more used to writing YA. I'm not really sure, but even as the book was very good, it did seem as though she wasn't quite as comfortable writing for this particular audience.

All that being said, I feel that Booth has created a complex and realistic story of a boy struggling to come to terms with his own and others' complicated lives and his own place in a constantly evolving family situation.

Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out August 24, 2014)

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