Fighting words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Text Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781922330628.
(Ages: 14+ / Young Adult). Highly recommended. "Sometimes you've got a story you need to find the courage to tell." Based on author Bradley's personal experience Fighting words deals with child sexual abuse yet is so much more than that. It is about what comes after, and about survival. By the time the story begins the abuse is in the past and is mostly hinted at and not explicitly spelled out, except for on one page (pg. 130). Two sisters, 12 year old Della and 16 year old sister Suki are involved and must deal with all the emotions and damage from what has occurred. It is about getting help and making plans and being safe and finding people to trust. And it is about consent, about love and about the unshakeable bond between sisters.
The girls have fled their home and been taken into foster care. Della, who tells the story, has a tough outer shell and doesn't trust or need anyone but her sister. She also swears a lot (in the book actual swear words are replaced with the word 'snow'). Suki has always been the strong one, but she suddenly starts screaming in her sleep and becomes distant.
When Della starts at a new school she encounters a bully but also a chance to make friends. Her therapist gives her the tools to handle the bully by making a strong statement about consent and about adults needing to believe children when they share problems. For Della the hardest part of telling her story now is realising how much of it she didn't know about at the time. And she bravely decides it's her turn to be the strong one and to speak out about the terrible things that Suki endured.
This is the first young adult novel for Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. The story has some lows (including a suicide attempt) but maintains a strong thread of hope, humour and positivity. There are 14 discussion points in the back of the book which are wonderful ways to get teenagers talking about issues such as family, sacrifices, problem solving, power imbalances, consent, decision making and consequences. Teacher's notes are available.
Themes: Sexual abuse, Sisters, Suicide, Relationships, Emotions, Family.