Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The latest novel by the author of The War that Saved My Life is a powerful, first-person story from the perspective of ten-year-old Della, who has been the victim of a sexual assault. She and her sister, Suki, are in foster care with a frank but supportive foster mum. The story is age-appropriate with no graphic details, and gently reveals what happened to the girls prior to them finding safety with their foster mum.

Suki starts a part-time job and Della must navigate a new school, a bully in her classroom, and find friends, all while recovering from their terrible childhood. When Suki breaks down from the burden of her past trauma, the story feels dark. But there are also moments of lightness and humour, with true friends and supportive adults. Della finds her voice to fight back against the bully at school, to request more understanding from her teacher and to speak out in court. Suki also rallies with counselling and support.

The author was motivated to write this book because she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse herself. She wanted young people to know that talking about trauma can help you to heal, that abuse is never a young person’s fault – no matter the situation, and that it can happen in all sorts of families. The book was published in the US as middle-grade fiction, yet released by the Australian publisher as young adult fiction, no doubt because of the potentially distressing content. At the back of the book are a number of Australian-focused resources for children and their carers, as well as discussion points for a therapeutic or classroom situation.

This is an important and beautifully written story that is ultimately uplifting but should be given to a young person with the awareness that further discussion and support may be needed. But for those readers who recognise themselves in the narrative, it will be an important lifeline. Recommended for ages 11+.

Angela Crocombe is the manager of Readings Kids.

Cover image for Fighting Words

Fighting Words

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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