In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Summary:  Andi and Zora are two of the only Black girls at the prestigious Harmony Music Camp, and they get off to a bad start as bunkmates.  Andi has recently lost her mother in a car accident and carries a guilty secret around her death.  Zora is trying to live up to her parents’ expectations but is starting to think that dance may be her passion more than music.  Andi loves playing the trumpet, but her method of playing mostly by ear doesn’t work very well for the classical style of the camp orchestra, and Zora is assigned to be her mentor.  A friendship slowly grows, and Zora starts to wonder if they might be more than friends.  A climactic scene in which both girls get lost in the woods reveals Andi’s secret about her mom and allows the girls to reveal their feelings for each other.  There are still some issues to be worked out, but both girls head for home feeling a little more confident about who they are.  Includes an author’s note about growing up queer and Black.  354 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A lovely summer romance (with a single kiss and some hand holding) that will resonate with any kid who has ever felt like they don’t belong.  The story is told in alternating voices of the girls, so readers get to gradually see what is going on with each character, both from her own point of view and from others’ perspectives.  Each section ends with a moving poem written in the voice of the camp itself.

Cons:  Death, self-harm, coming to terms with sexuality, bullying, racism: there are a lot of heavy topics dealt with in this book.  To me, though, the author handled them with a deft enough touch to make this an enjoyable summer read.

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