review: Courage

correction: In reading this book (close to three times I might add) I missed the line that identified Sammy’s adopted parents as white. That changes this line in my review:  I didn’t care for the stereotypical over-demanding Asian parents with the adopted son. Instead, we have a white mother who is over-demanding with an Asian son. 


title: Courage
Author: Barbara Binns
date: HarperCollins; July 2018
main character: T’Shawn Rodgers
(review based on advanced copy)

Barbara Binns has always been an author focused on providing visibility to black boys and she’s back doing it again with Courage. This middle grade novel is set in the south side of contemporary Chicago. T’Shawn backs into diving after trying to impress his crush with a lie about his ability to dive, but he soon realizes he really likes the sport. He wants to join a diving club, but his family’s finances have been strained for several reasons. It seems this won’t happen for him until a rare scholarship becomes available and he’s able to join the team.

If only T’Shawn’s life were that simple! His brother, Lamont, is about to come home. From prison. T’Shawn has many reasons to not want Lamont home, sharing a room with him. He’s not very kind to his brother, but Binns’ characters are multidimensional, having the capacity to be as complex and people really are. He’s angry with his brother, but there’s still something promising there and in that, there’s still room for them to be family. Well, if Lamont hasn’t gone back to his old habits there would be.

Courage is a nice middle grade novel. It doesn’t coddle its readers, but it’s not bitter and hopeless, either. Reality fiction is a good description for it.

I like the subtle way Binns empowers people that society typically ignores. I really liked that T’Shawn could be as aware of class differences as well as racial differences and that he was able to call them out and question them. I didn’t care for the stereotypical over-demanding Asian parents with the adopted son. Truth be told, I have to wonder when we’re going to get past what feels like a diversity checklist in children’s books and write inclusive, fully realized characters from marginalized backgrounds. If it’s African American fiction, it’s got to have that Black Lives Matters Moment. If you’re reading MG and YA books, you know what I mean! You know this isn’t just about Binns’ book. Binns’ character, T’Shawn defies stereotypes with interests in diving and country music.

Becky book? Not this one. T’Shawn is able to see the flaws that lie beneath cuteness and be genuinely interested in a young lady who brings something to the table. While one’s character may be more flawed than the other, both girls are able to work for the common good. Each of the Black girls is seen for her character and contributes in a positive way to the story’s outcome. They add value to their families and their communities.

There’s a lot in this book that I’m not mentioning. I’m falling short of describing how well written this is because I’m trying not to spoil the story. Binns writes these details that seem so insignificant, but there not! They don’t pop out of the story, they wave no flags, but in retrospect it all makes so much sense. Her characters come across as if she’s writing about someone she knows.

4 thoughts on “review: Courage

  1. Thank you for this excellent review of a MG novel that features Black youngsters who are multidimensional, who have agency, and who don’t fall into the stereotype(s) of Black people who are generally portrayed by authors from out of the culture and community. Good call–and too bad–about the domineering Asian parents; something that still needs to be worked on in MG novels. I would like to have seen a paragraph or two from the book, and look forward to reading it.


  2. Debbie Reese typically puts a NOT RECOMMENDED label on books that have problematic American Indian content, even if that content is a small part of the book and the book succeeds in other ways. We in the Diversity community should follow that lead, no later how much a book serves out own intersectional identities or interests. This book sounds problematic and harm inducing for Asian children to read. Please reconsider, or at least discuss.


    1. I value Debbie’s work. I think she is definitely at the forefront of the work that we do. I think trying to make all of the work we each do look exactly the same is antithetical to the work we’re trying to do. I think

      I forgot that I recommended this one. I think if I could go back, I take off the recommendation and just let the review stand on its own merits. There’s greater inconsistency within my own work (pointing out such a major flaw and then recommending the book) that to me has greater significance than trying to compare me to someone else.


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