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Fighting Words
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Fighting Words
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*Newbery Honor Book**Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor* A candid and fierce middle grade novel about sisterhood and sexual abuse, by two-time Newbery Honor winner and #1 New York Times best seller...
*Newbery Honor Book**Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor* A candid and fierce middle grade novel about sisterhood and sexual abuse, by two-time Newbery Honor winner and #1 New York Times best seller...
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  • *Newbery Honor Book*
    *Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor*
    A candid and fierce middle grade novel about sisterhood and sexual abuse, by two-time Newbery Honor winner and #1 New York Times best seller Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, author of The War that Saved My Life
    Kirkus Prize Finalist
    Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
    Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year
    School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
    Booklist Best Book of the Year
    Kirkus Best Book of the Year
    BookPage Best Book of the Year
    New York Public Library Best Book of the Year
    Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year
    Golden Kite Honor Book
    Rise: Feminist Book Project Selection
    ALSC Notable Book
    Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choices Selection
    Junior Library Guild Selection
    "Fighting Words is raw, it is real, it is necessary, a must-read for children and their adults—a total triumph in all ways." —Holly Goldberg Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Counting by 7s

    Ten-year-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom's boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della's own wolf—her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della's world turns so far upside down, it feels like it's shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she's been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it's time to be loud.
    In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.
    "Della’s matter-of-fact narration manages to be as funny and charming as it is devastatingly sad. . . . This is a novel about trauma and the scars it leaves on bodies, minds and hearts. But more than that, it’s a book about resilience, strength and healing." —New York Times Book Review
    "One of the most important books ever written for kids."—Colby Sharp of Nerdy Book Club
    "One for the history books....One of the best of the year."—Betsy Bird for A Fuse #8 Production/SLJ
    "Gripping. Life-changing...I am awe-struck."—Donna Gephart, author of Lily and Dunkin
    "Compassionate, truthful, and beautiful."—Elana K. Arnold, author of Damsel
    "I am blown away. [This] may be Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's best work yet."—Barbara Dee, author of Maybe He Just Likes You
    "A book that lets [kids] know they have never been alone. And never will be."—Kat Yeh, author of The Truth About Twinkie Pie
    "Meets the criteria of great children's literature that [will] resonate with adults too."—Bitch Media
    * "At once heartbreaking and hopeful."—Kirkus (starred review)
    * "Honest [and] empowering...An important book for readers of all ages."—SLJ (starred review)
    * "Sensitive[,] deft, and vivid."—BCCB (starred review)
    * "Prepare to read furiously."—Booklist (starred review)
    * "An essential, powerful mirror and window for any...



  • From the book


    M y new tattoo is covered by a Band-Aid, but halfway through recess, the Band-Aid falls off. I’m hanging my winter coat on the hook in our fourth-grade classroom when my teacher, Ms. Davonte, walks by and gasps.
    “Della,” she says, “is that a tattoo?”
    I hold up my wrist to show it to her. “It’s an ampersand,” I say, careful to pronounce the word correctly.
    “I know that,” Ms. Davonte says. “Is it real?”
    It’s so real, it still hurts, and the skin around it is red and puffy. “Yes, ma’am,” I say.
    She shakes her head and mutters. I am not one of her favorite students. I may be one of her least favorites.
    I don’t care. I love, love, love my ampersand tattoo.
    I am ten years old. I’m going to tell you the whole story. Some parts are hard, so I’ll leave those for later. I’ll start with the easy stuff.
    My name is Delicious Nevaeh Roberts. Yeah, I know. With a first name like that, why don’t I just go by Nevaeh? I never tell anyone my name is Delicious, but it’s down in my school records, and teachers usually blurt it out on the first day.
    I’ve had a lot of first days lately.
    If I can get it in before the teacher says Delicious out loud, I’ll say, “I go by Della.” I mean, I’ll say that anyhow—I answer to Della, not Delicious, thank you—but it’s easier if no one ever hears Delicious.
    Once a boy tried to lick me to see if I was delicious. I kicked him in the— Suki says I can’t use bad words, not if I want anybody to read my story. Everybody I know uses bad words all the time, just not written down. Anyway, I kicked him right in the zipper of his blue jeans—let’s say it like that—and it was me that got in trouble. It’s always the girl that gets in trouble. It’s usually me.
    Suki didn’t care. She said, You stick up for yourself, Della. Don’t you take crap from nobody.
    Can I say crap in a story?
    Anyhow, she didn’t say crap. She said something worse.
    Lemme fix that. Suki says whenever I want to use a bad word, I can say snow. Or snowflake. Or snowy.
    I kicked him right in the snow.
    Don’t you take snow from nobody.
    Yeah, that works.
    Okay, so back to me. Delicious Nevaeh Roberts. The Nevaeh is heaven spelled backwards, of course. There’s usually at least one other girl in my class called Nevaeh. It’s a real popular name around here. I don’t know why. It sounds dumb to me. Heaven backwards? What was my mother thinking?
    Probably she wasn’t. That’s just the truth. My mother is incarcerated. Her parental rights have been terminated. That just happened lately. Nobody bothered to before, even though by the time she gets out of prison, I’ll be old enough to vote.
    I can’t remember her, except one tiny bit like a scene from a movie. Suki says she was no better than a hamster when it came to being a mother, and hamsters sometimes eat their babies. It was always Suki who took care of me. Mostly still is.
    Suki’s my sister. She’s sixteen.
    I’m still on the easy part of the story, if you can believe that.
    Suki’s full name is Suki Grace Roberts. Suki isn’t short for anything, though it sounds like it should be. And that Roberts part—well, that’s our mother’s last name too. Suki and me, we don’t know who our fathers are, except they were probably different people and neither one of them was Clifton, thank God. Suki swears that’s true. I believe her.


  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2020
    Her beloved older sister has always kept Della safe; now that both are secure in foster care, why is Suki pushing her away? Della, 10, barely remembers their mom. For five years after the meth-cooking incident that got her incarcerated in a Kansas penitentiary, the girls lived with her predatory boyfriend, Clifton. (He's now in jail awaiting trial thanks to Suki's quick thinking.) With their plainspoken foster mother, Francine, providing needed stability, Suki, 16, lands a part-time job, and Della makes friends. Far behind academically, Della's advanced in reading predatory behavior. Her friends have been taught to ignore boys' physical bullying, so they're shocked when Della fights back at school. (She's punished but undeterred.) Suki appears to thrive until she learns her "permanency plan" to achieve independence at 18 and gain custody of Della is unworkable. As Suki unravels, Francine's urgent requests to arrange counseling for the girls go unheeded, with near-catastrophic results. The focus throughout, rightly, is on the aftermath of abuse, the content accessible to middle-grade readers but not graphically conveyed. Believable and immensely appealing, Suki, Francine, and especially Della (all are white, though Della is a bit "browner" than Suki) light up what might have been an unremittingly bleak story: Charting a path to wholeness is hard enough; the human roadblocks they encounter make it nearly insurmountable. Readers will root for these sisters along every step of their daunting journey. Refusing to soft-pedal hard issues, the novel speaks with an astringent honesty, at once heartbreaking and hopeful. (author's note) (Fiction. 9-13)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 29, 2020
    In Tennessee, Delicious “Della” Nevaeh Roberts, 10, has always counted on the fierce, wolflike love of her 16-year-old sister, Suki. Suki raised Della after their mother was incarcerated for a meth-related accident and they were left with her truck driver boyfriend, Clifton. But when Suki finds Clifton pulling down Della’s underwear, the girls flee and are placed in the care of gruff foster mother Francine. Della gradually adapts to the safety of her new life, enjoying a new friendship but occasionally getting in trouble for trying to stop a physical bully in her class. For Suki, however, newfound stability results in a mental health decline that goes unchecked at first, despite Francine’s attempts to get her help. Della’s tough, straightforward narration pulls no punches (“I’ve learned that some things are almost impossible to talk about because they’re things no one wants to know”) as she learns the power of using her “big mouth” and inspires others to tell their stories when and how they are able. Sharp characterizations by Newbery Honoree Brubaker Bradley (The War That Saved My Life) create an essential, powerful mirror and window for any reader: “I was glad, you know, to read the book. To know it didn’t only happen to me.” An author’s note includes resources for young readers. Ages 10–up. Agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from July 1, 2020

    Gr 5 Up-Della's story starts as a flash-forward, beginning with the easy part. The easy part isn't actually easy. Della and her older sister Suki are in foster care, having run away from Clifton, the man they'd been living with since their mother was incarcerated. Clifton had threatened them for years, telling them if people found out he wasn't their father, he wouldn't be able to keep them and they'd have nothing to eat and nowhere to live. When Suki catches Clifton molesting Della, and takes pictures for evidence, the two ultimately end up in protective custody. Della is a conscientious narrator, always alerting readers to the harder parts of her story. Her tough exterior is misunderstood by her teacher, who takes issue with her language (the word "snow" is used throughout as a substitute for stronger terminology) but Della starts thriving, making friends and beginning to trust her foster mother Francine. Yet Suki is getting worse; she is plagued by nightmares, refusing to see her friends, and fighting with Della for the first time. A content warning for her suicide attempt is necessary, as the ultimate truth emerges that Suki herself was sexually molested by Clifton for eight years. Despite the horrors the sisters have endured, there is humor and warmth in this multifaceted, brave novel. Bradley creates fully developed, believable characters that readers will root for. It is heartwarming to see the sisters evolve as characters, as they begin to get help for all they have witnessed and experienced. VERDICT Raw and honest, this ultimately empowering novel is an important book for readers of all ages. Adults may want to follow up or simultaneously read the book with younger readers to discuss the difficult issues addressed.-Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2020
    Grades 5-8 *Starred Review* The past year or so has seen an influx of middle-grade novels exploring child sexual abuse and consent. This story, no PSA, is an honest slice of a difficult life?unvarnished, painful, and raw?told by 10-year-old Della, who has browner skin than her fair sister, a mouth like a sailor, and doesn't take snow from anybody. See how that snow works? She tells the story of how she and her 16-year-old sister, Suki, ended up in foster care. It's told in fits and starts as Della warms up to talking about the worst things that happened to them, offering the easy stuff first: their mother's incarceration for cooking meth, bouncing around to new schools, being bullied, and being poor. Della's a powerhouse of a protagonist who demonstrates that being strong doesn't preclude being scared or vulnerable or angry. Bradley gradually introduces safety and hope into their world without denying the work involved in achieving and hanging onto both. The trauma of sexual abuse is omnipresent, even before it's named, though the details of what happened are left largely unsaid. The sisters' fierce love for each other helps them survive, as does the additional help they eventually find. Bradley ends with advice and resources for any kid struggling with abuse or thoughts of suicide. Prepare to read furiously.Women in Focus: The 19th in 2020(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
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