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*A Summer of Kings* by Han Nolan - young adult book review



A Summer of Kings
by Han Nolan
Grades 7-9 352 pages Harcourt March 2006 Hardcover    

Han Nolan's newest novel, A Summer Of Kings, takes place during the summer of 1963, when Esther Young is fourteen and wants to change her life. She is part of a wealthy family that seems to be filled with talent, and she feels like that's one thing she doesn't have. She's not talented, or smart, or pretty, or exciting...At least, that's what her family has led her to believe. In the Young family, it's Stewart and Sophia, Esther's younger siblings, who get all the attention; everyone thinks they're smarter, more talented, and more attractive than their dumb, plain older sister. All Esther is good for is cleaning, or taking her younger siblings into the city for auditions or dance lessons. She could never be like the rest of her family, who constantly make fun of and criticize her.

Beyond Esther's personal issues, the world has a lot going on as well, it's right in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. That doesn't affect Esther much--until King-Roy comes to town. King-Roy Johnson, the son of Esther's mother's childhood best friend, is a young black man from Alabama accused of the murder of a white man. His mother is the only one who believes that he's innocent in his hometown, and she's sent him to live with Esther's family, to keep him out of harm's way for the summer.

After an incident in Alabama, King-Roy no longer follows Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent teachings. He now believes that the only way to win rights for his people is through the teachings of Malcolm X, and he quickly falls in with a group lead by a man named Ax, short for Accident. King-Roy changes drastically as he becomes more and more involved with this group. He talks about the white devil, how blacks shouldn't just want to be equal to whites but superior to them. He becomes a Muslim and no longer feels he can even be friends with Esther, who at first had hopes of a summer romance with King-Roy. Esther feels like everything is changing, and she's always being left behind; her relationship with King-Roy is no different.

A Summer Of Kings is an amazing book. Although it is a brilliant coming-of-age story, the issues dealt with go so much deeper than that. Esther's voice is fresh and innocent but powerful as well, and she is just one of many characters who seem as real as people we see every day. Esther's story is one that, even more than forty years after it is set, seems realistic; everyone feels inferior to the people around them at some point in time, and plenty of people have families who seem to encourage that low self-esteem. Esther's mother is always criticizing her, and that's the way a lot of mothers are; they may say it's because they love their children, and perhaps it is, but it really hurts the children.

The racial issues dealt with are also relevant today. As much as people have struggled for equality, it now exists in the law but not, always, in reality. Racism is still a big part of society (though it is now directed more at groups other than African-Americans; Arabs, in particular, have been persecuted in the past few years), and the struggle to abolish it goes on, though often in a different way. Look around; it's everywhere.

Nolan's writing flows remarkably well, holding the reader breathless all the way through the novel. Nothing seems at all forced, and the interaction between the characters is very realistic. It doesn't matter when this book is set; it speaks to people of today fantastically. It certainly stands out in the world of young adult literature, and is also magnificent when compared to other books by Han Nolan that I've read. Her other books are great, but A Summer Of Kings is amazing and certainly should not be missed.

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  Jocelyn Pearce/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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