written by Nikki Grimes
WordSong, October 2016
hardcover ISBN 978-1629797403
paperback ISBN 978-1635925111
About the Book
Garvey’s father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading—anything but sports. Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely.
When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey’s life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey and, through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself, and a way to finally reach his distant father—by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports.
This emotionally resonant novel in verse by award-winning author Nikki Grimes celebrates choosing to be true to yourself.
What a treat! The Book Club for Kids podcast featured “Garvey’s Choice.” I answered questions from readers at Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, DC. Actor Haskell V. Anderson III is the celebrity reader. Kitty Felde is host. Have a listen!
Awards and Recognition
ALA Notable Children's Book
Written in poignantly poetic tanka verse, Grimes' newest follows a young black boy searching for his own unique voice, lost among his father's wishes and society's mischaracterizations. This compassionate, courageous, and hopeful novel explores the constraints placed on black male identity and the corresponding pains and struggles that follow when a young black boy must confront these realities both at home and in school. Garvey has a complicated yet caring relationship with his family: "Mom's got a talent / for origami, but she / can't fold me into / the jock Dad wants me to be." Garvey copes with his father's disappointment by binge eating and, more positively, escaping into science fiction. Readers see the deep, loving friendship Garvey shares with classmate Joe, the only one with whom he can share his secrets. Through his father's lament that Garvey isn't "normal" and other clues, Grimes leaves the possibility open for readers to see Garvey as a young gay boy, which reinforces the connection the novel establishes between him and Luther Vandross, who struggled with both body image and being closeted. Garvey eventually finds himself in the school chorus. "I feel unwritten / like that song says… / I can't wait to sing my song, / croon my own untold story." This graceful novel risks stretching beyond easy, reductive constructions of black male coming-of-age stories and delivers a sincere, authentic story of resilience and finding one's voice. (Verse novel. 8-13)
Writing in five-line tanka poems, Grimes (Words with Wings) weaves a heart-wrenching story about a boy who isn’t the jock his father dreamed he would be. Garvey loves books and, despite his father’s efforts, cannot get excited about sports. He eats to mask the pain of his father’s disappointment and is teased at school for his size. Help arrives in the form of friends Joe and Manny, an albino boy who embraces his difference, but when Garvey risks joining the school chorus and lets his voice soar, he learns to become proud of what he can do, instead of focusing on what he can’t. In simple, searing language, Grimes captures Garvey’s heartache at his father’s inability to accept him as he is, as well as the casual but wounding teasing Garvey endures at school (“The change bell always/ sinks fear into me like teeth./ Ugly name-calling leaves me with bloody bite marks:/ lard butt, fatso, Mister Tubbs”). Garvey’s journey to self-acceptance is deeply moving and will linger with readers long after they finish this brief, incisive verse novel.
A Coretta Scott King Author Award–winning author and the recipient of the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, Grimes returns to the novel-in-verse format, creating voice, characters, and plot in a series of pithy tanka poems, a traditional Japanese form similar to haiku, but using five lines. While the story ends on a hopeful note, Grimes is clear that it takes work and time, as well as insight and determination, to create real change. Written from Garvey’s point of view, the succinct verses convey the narrative as well as his emotions with brevity, clarity, and finesse.
Grimes’s latest is a sensitively written middle grade novel in verse that takes its syllable count from Japanese tanka. Garvey is an overweight boy who is teased at school and whose father constantly prods him to be more like his athletic older sister, Angie. But Garvey has a best friend (Joe), an open heart (which leads him to a new friend, Manny), and, as readers learn midway through the book, a talent for singing, which lands him a coveted solo in the school’s chorus concert. Through that talent, Garvey finds a way to connect with his father and combat his bullies’ rude remarks with a newfound strength of purpose. Those who thought Planet Middle School’s Joylin was a remarkably lifelike portrait of an angsty yet kind adolescent will fall hard for Garvey, a tender, sincere boy who dislikes athletics. Grimes writes about adolescent friendships in a way that feels deeply human. VERDICT A short, sweet, satisfying novel in verse that educators and readers alike will love.