Friday, April 7, 2017

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

61lNbRTlzwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)Is it ever too early to encourage kids to become active in their community? From an early age some parents teach their offspring about volunteering, fundraising, canned food drives and the like. Some kids however become influenced by what their parents and guardians don't do and this is part of the story in this novel for middle grade readers.

Jin's grandparents run a bodega and make kimchi and she is content to help out in the store and journal her observations. Then two weird things occur. One night an older gent buys a goat's head pez dispenser and then later a kid from her school comes in and leaves metro cards on the shelves. Thus begins some new friendships as her world opens up.

Jin along with a reticent classmate named Alex and a newcomer called Elvin are drawn into a decades old mystery that involves history, friendship and art. In the process they learn about each other, about themselves and about the wonderful borough in which they live.  The author Tarpley lived in Harlem and her love for the borough shows in her descriptions of the streets and various sections of the borough.

Gentrification is not something you see covered a lot in middle grade fiction, neither is the Harlem Renaissance but Tarpley manages to do so without being heavy-handed. I recommend this book for ages 8+. Some read alikes to it are The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg, Blue Balliett's The Wright 3 and Kate Messner's Capture the Flag.

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