The moment I saw the title of Stephane Dunn’s book, the phrase, “snitches get stitches” popped into my head. As a former middle school English teacher, I would hear the phrase the moment a student believed another student was going to tattle-tell. The “stitches” meant the student who tattled was going to get jumped by a group of kids.
However, in Snitchers, the stakes are much higher.
Friends Nia, Miracle Ruth, and Dontay, all have one commonality. They aren’t being raised by both of their parents. Nia’s dad was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed. Dontay’s mom died from an illness. Miracle Ruth doesn’t know who her dad is, and her mom is lost to life on the streets. Even their other close friend Fernando, who switched schools, was being raised by his aunt because his parents died when he was three.
Nia does not know exactly what happened to her dad. She knows he was shot, but they never found the killer. The lack of closure haunts her.
Unfortunately, tragedy seemed to be part of her childhood. Another tragedy struck close to home when little five-year-old Petey, a child she babysat, was shot and killed.
Petey’s death was one too many for Nia, so she decided to recruit her friends to help her solve his murder while avoiding getting “stitches” … the ones that put you 6 feet under.
This book gave me Angie Thomas The Hate U Give vibes. Even though this story did not center a police officer killing a kid, it still touched upon similar themes when it comes to the impact of violence on the ones left behind.
There was great character development for the protagonist Nia and her friend Miracle Ruth. Dontay; however, needed a bit more development. I felt like I knew Nia’s mom and grandmother as well as Miracle Ruth’s grandmother better than Dontay, who along with Miracle Ruth, was helping Nia solve Petey’s murder.
Another person the reader knows more about than Dontay was Alima. One year, Nia’s class had pen pals. Even after that school year ended, Nia and Alima kept writing to each other. Alima lived in Al-Khader, a city close to Bethlehem. Almost every chapter ends with one of the girls’ letters to each other. Like Nia and her friends in the US, Alima has also lost a parent.
The girls writing to each other was my favorite part of the novel. At the end of each chapter, I looked forward to reading how these girls were processing the violence in their respective locations. These letters added an unexpected depth to the book.
Unfortunately, solving Petey’s murder was not as interesting as I hoped it would be. I kept waiting for the main plot to pick up, but it stayed slow and steady. It was 315 pages of that pace. The red herring of who could be possibly be involved with the murder was easy to spot. I also guessed who committed the crime way before the book ended. I kept reading to confirm my suspicion, not because the plot compelled me forward.
However, I do believe some children will enjoy this book especially if they like books like the Bluford High series. If teens figure out who the shooter is as early as I did, I fear they will flip to the end to confirm and quit reading.
I had hopes at the beginning of the novel, that at some point, the book would teach the lesson that we have to move beyond staying quiet and we must speak up for violence to end. That message sort of came through at the end but not as strong as I had hope.
One more note …
Because I’m a former teacher, I have to note that there is some profanity in a few chapters and the n-word was used. Because I love YA, I can tell you profanity happens in some YA books, and I think Dunn had the right balance when it came to inserting profane words into the narrative.
I hope other readers will reflect upon their own neighborhoods and what they can do to keep their community safe.
I’ll end this review with a quote from the book that resonated with me.
“Somewhere children must play in the sun with no bullets or walls to fear.”
Note: I was provided a freecopy of this book to provide an honest review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
MCBD is a non-profit organization that works with authors and publishers to get their books reviewed for the event and also works to make diverse children’s books available for free. MCBD also offers a variety of free resources, teaching tools, booklists, downloads, and a year-round initiative to get multicultural and diverse books into the hands of young readers. Over 10,000 books have been donated to underserved kids, classrooms, and organizations to date, and the numbers keep growing.
On January 26, 2023, Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD) will celebrate its 10th anniversary of bringing culturally diverse books to the hands of children, parents, teachers, and librarians. It is an online and offline celebration that attracts thousands of supporters, educators, parents, caregivers, book reviewers, and quality authors and publishers who join forces to shine the spotlight on diversity in children and YA literature.
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