book review: Peas and Carrots

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title: Peas and Carrots
author: Tanita S. Davis
date: Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; February 2016
main characters: Hope Carter and Odessa (Dess) Matthews
young adult realistic fiction

Hope is used to her family taking in foster children, but she’s not used to having a foster sister so close to her own age. Her parents are already caring for Jamaira, an infant whose brain is calcifying, and Austin but when Austin’s older sister needs a placement, it’s a no brainer to place her in the home with her younger brother. The Carters are an upper middle class African American family who feel they have blessings to share. Odessa is a young white teen who has been bounced around enough to have a few edges. In the Carter home, there is one rule and that’s kindness. “Speak with kindness or choose not to speak.” This simply seemingly hokey rule brings with it the assumption that all people deserve kindness regardless their degree of privilege. Kindness proves to be disabling and it proves to be a timely message in these political times.

While the story is told in two voices, only Dess is empowered through the use of first person. She internally acknowledges that her foster family is black, as I suspect any white teen would do in such a situation, and but her issues are not with the family or their ethnicity. Rather, they are with Hope (aka ‘Hopeless’), the person with whom she spend most if not all her time. Dess’ other conflicts are internal and the peace Davis creates within this family gives Dess the room to wrestle her demons. Hope too, has an internal wrestling match, mostly about how she’s met her and her family’s expectations.

Hope is a short, plump brown skin girl whose physical features could be ripe for attack except her physical features aren’t an area of weakness for Hope. Unfortunately, this Hope isn’t represented on the cover. Rather, we’re given a tall, think light skin girl. We’re also given a brunette Dess when the character is blond. These flaws can be annoying to readers.

Throw in everyone’s favorite uncle, Aunt Henry, and colorful and generous grandmother and we get a typical American family. In what I hope is a growing trend of YA, parents maintain a solid role in the story. While the girls are left alone to work through their issues, parents are not isolated from the action.

Without giving anything away, I’ll say that yes, I did like the ending.

I also have to say that I am a true fan of Tanita Davis’ works. She brings the diverse realities of life to her writing, working her characters through complex and unique situations that fully engage her readers. Tanita did send me a copy of this book to review and I truly did love it. If I hadn’t, this review would look very different.

Tanita S. Davis is an award winning author whose  other books include Mare’s War, Happy Families  and A La Carte. 

Edited 29 March 2016

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2 thoughts on “book review: Peas and Carrots

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this, Edi, and am hopeful with you that there will be more books about African American families who have blessings to share, and who aren’t always the recipients of aid, or needing help. There are those families in real life, too.

    • Tanita, there is so much that is ordinary life in this book but that is deleted from young adult literature, kinda like peas and carrots: something so obvious, but that we take for granted. But seriously, from where did the title come?

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