What the Fireflies Knew

Tiny Reparations. Feb. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780593185346. $26. F
DEBUT Set in 1995, Harris’s debut novel is told from the perspective of Kenyatta (also called KB), a 10-year-old Black girl. After her father dies of a drug overdose and her mother seeks treatment for depression, KB and her 15-year-old sister Nia are left in the care of their grandfather for the summer. In her loneliness and confusion, KB tries to connect with Nia, who is emotionally distant and prefers to go out with friends her age and chase boys. KB spends most of her time reading and occasionally playing with the white boy and girl across the street, whose racist mother has forbidden any friendship. Like her favorite book heroines, KB devises plans to heal her broken family. The healing does occur, though not in the exact way she had planned.
VERDICT Harris has chosen to tell the story entirely through a child’s eyes, without the imposition of an omniscient narrator or an adult KB looking back. This means that the reader is sometimes several steps ahead of her and frustrated or fearful of where her naivete will lead her. But KB’s wide-eyed honesty also helps her more-jaded elders progress toward reconciliation. Appropriate for both YA and adult collections.
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