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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes

This is a well-written story about a bi-racial foster child.

Paris and her older brother, Malcolm, are in the process of leaving their foster home when we meet them in the first couple chapters. Their current foster mother is physically abusive, threatens them, and locks them in the closet. Malcolm takes care of Paris as best he can. In this case, by stealing money from his foster mom and running.

They reach their grandmother who cannot keep them. Paris's heart is damaged even further when she is separated from her brother at this point. He is sent away as "incorrigible" for stealing the money from his foster mom.

Paris enters a new foster home with parents, several other foster children, and a new school with a new best friend. Her healing begins with the loving and firm guidance of an understanding family. But the situation is threatened by her mother's re-entry into her life, hoping to be a family again. And, of course, Paris still needs her brother.

One important part of Paris’s healing is learning to keep God close to her. Her brother also finds this help on his own. Paris's new family are members of Star of Bethlehem Baptist church and Paris begins her journey of faith as she finds her gift of singing through the choir.

I like the way the author handles the race issue. At one point, Paris is wounded terribly when her best friend (white) abandons her because her father is a racist… shown in his ugliness by calling Paris a “blonde nigg…” Paris learns, with guidance from her foster mom (white) learns that each individual should be judged by his own actions.

In the end, Paris has to learn to forgive her mother, and she has to make a momentous decision to stay with her foster family or return to her mother.

Nikki Grimes writes convincingly and compellingly. The Great Gilly Hopkins remains my favorite all-time foster-child story, but this is a worthy runner-up.

While this is written in a style for mid tweens, the content is serious: teens and maybe older tweens should have no problem with it, but you may need to consider maturity. There are no gratuitous details, the moral failings of Paris' biological parents are presented matter-of-factly (but should not be passed over lightly), and the abusive parts are not graphic; the real story centers on the love and healing and Paris' resilient spirit.

You may want to consider the seriousness of the topic: her mom is an alcoholic. She and her brother have different fathers. Paris' biological father abandons the family, then the mother abandons her, then she loses her brother. She is locked in a closet by her first foster family where she brushes off a cockroach and huddles with her brother. The hurdles she overcomes are formidable. I imagine most foster children do not get into the system for minor reasons; this may be a good topic to discuss depending on the age/maturity of your child. There is a casual use of the term “butt,” as in… we’ll beat your butts… (Around here that is a coarse and banned term…)



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