Attack of the Black Rectangles

A sixth-grader confronts school censorship and tackles his own insecurities in this timely and impassioned middle-grade novel about difficult truths, agency of youth and the importance of having grace in complicated circumstances.

Ms. Sett's reputation precedes her. She is known for letter-writing campaigns and for believing "rules equal safety." Mac Delaney, his anxious and loyal best friend Denis and noted feminist Marci all land in Ms. Sett's classroom. A "too perfect" first day of school gives way to conflicts when the students find black rectangles obscuring sections of their literature book. "Those areas of the book made some students very uncomfortable and made some of the boys in class giggle," the principal explains, "so [Ms. Sett] took care of the problem." Mac and his friends respond by demanding answers and, thanks to some encouragement from Mac's patient and clear-minded mother and support from his war veteran Grandad, they bring a frustrated township along in the process.

Printz Award-winning author King (Dig; The Year We Fell from Space) offers an empathetic protagonist whose personal growth should empower readers to evaluate for themselves whether the way things are is the way things ought to be. Short chapters punctuated by newspaper letters accelerate the story's pace, and authentic side plots about family, friendship and a first crush keep the weighty theme of censorship from overwhelming readers. King does an outstanding job of normalizing messy emotions and an author's note explains King's personal connection to the story. An empowering and instructive affirmation of youth, truth and intellectual freedom, this is an essential read given the alarming proliferation of book challenges. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

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