Callender, Kacen. King and the Dragonflies. Fiction. Scholastic, 02/2020. 260pp. $17.99. 978-1-338-12933-5. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 4-8.
Deep in the Louisiana bayou, King and his parents grieve over the recent passing of King’s older brother Khalid, though King is sure that his brother has become a dragonfly with whom he visits each day. Khalid had told King not to associate with his best friend Sandy since he is gay. But when Sandy goes missing, King begins to question the relationships in his life and the hard truths about himself. The author brings up the wider issue of toxic masculinity through an examination of the relationships between fathers and sons—abusive fathers, sexist fathers, and those who find it difficult to tell their children that they love them—as well as homosexuality, especially in the black community: “Black people aren’t allowed to be gay, King. We’ve already got the whole world hating us because of our skin.” Callender’s latest middle grade novel centers around the relatable and sympathetic King, who is learning to shed internalized homophobia caused by always having been told that being gay is wrong. Filled with poetic language—mostly associated with the mystical things that King’s brother Khalid used to say in his sleep, “You are not your body. We are all one soul”—and touching on a number of weighty topics, this brief and steadily-paced novel packs a punch. Review based on an ARC.
Eric Barbus, San Francisco Public Library