Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Clayton Byrd's parents were never married, but have a cordial relationship and his father is a part of his life. But Clayton is closer to his grandfather, who he calls "Cool Papa", and the two share a strong bond, strengthened by their mutal love of the blues. However, one evening Cool Papa dies unexpectedly, and Clayton's grief is compounded by the fact that his mother seems to be trying to erase his very existence due to resentment lingering from her childhood.
I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book, as I did not enjoy it nearly as much as the author's previous trilogy about the Gaither sisters. But I decided that was more because I was not really the right audience for this book, and I did not identify with the main character, an only child dealing with a significant loss, as I did with Delphine being the oldest child with siblings and all the sibling bickering, plus I preferred the longer story covering a whole summer, as opposed to mainly one day.
The final factor that interferred with my enjoyment of the story was how much I disliked Clayton's mother. I found her to be extremely selfish, self-centered, and childish, putting her need to nurse her childhood hurts and resentment and punish her father's memory over her child's needs, and her actions made me very angry on Clayton's behalf. The relationship between Clayton and Cool Papa was very special and touching, and it was sad that Clayton's mother was so jealous of it and tried to erase Clayton's memory of it, rather that appreciating it and helping Clayton grieve and remember. But, it is realistic as the death of a family member often brings out the worst in people and causes family infighting.
I do think this book is well-written, and the characters pretty well-developed, although in fairness you only see one side of Clayton's mother and just a glimpse of his father. This book would have a lot of appeal to reluctant readers as it is shorter and less intimidating, and they get to have an adventure along with Clayton. I would recommend this to readers who prefer more realistic fiction, and might be looking for something with a little adventure, maybe some vicarious rebellion, or are struggling with loss and/or complex family dynamics. And having a well-written book featuring diverse characters is always a plus.
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