by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachinigtheapolcalypse)
Kacen Callender's King and the Dragonflies
This book, Kacen Callender's King and the Dragonflies (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm), captivated my attention from the second I started it, and I was so compelled to find out what was going to happen. I listened to this one on audio, and the narration by Ron Butler was outstanding. This was a strong five-star read for me, and as I write this, I'm regretting not including it on my list for favorites from 2021!
In this story, Kingston James is a middle school student reeling from the recent loss of his older brother, Khalid, who died abruptly as a teenager. Although King doesn't tell anyone, he knows that his brother has transformed into a dragonfly, and he finds himself going daily to a field where there are lots of dragonflies, where he searches in vain for his dragonfly brother. He also waits for Khalid to visit him in his dreams.
“The way we lived then, that's how we thought we would live forever. We not for one second thought everything could change in the amount of time it takes for a single heart to stop beating.”
Meanwhile, King's friendships at school are falling apart. Shortly before Khalid's death, King's best friend Sandy admitted to him that he wondered if he might be gay. Khalid overheard about Sandy and advised King that he should stop being friends with Sandy to avoid trouble in his own life. After having Khalid ripped away from him, King is desperate to follow Khalid's advice, even if he desperately misses Sandy and worries about that advice. But then when Sandy disappears and the whole town is out hunting for him, King must face the truths he's been running from, and he has to decide what kind of friend, and person, he wants to be.
This phenomenal book encompasses so many critical topics -- issues of grief, race, sexuality, abuse, racism, secret keeping, and identity all rise to the surface in authentic and profound ways. Writing this, I'm ready to read this one all over again. There's so much there to discuss, and yet it's also accessible to a middle grade audience. (And I just wanted to share that I've noticed the trend that a lot of my book reviews have been middle grade lately! I haven't read that many middle grade books, but the ones I've read have been amazing! It's been a great discovery.) King and the Dragonflies is a masterful book and has solidified Kacen Callender as an auto-read author for me.
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