Break This House

Dutton. Jun. 2022. 224p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525556237.
Gr 9 Up–Yaminah and her pop moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, from Obsidian, MI, five years ago to escape Mama’s unexplained meanness and increasing absences. Minah, now 16, is thriving, especially with her BFF Nikki Joy and boyfriend Mike by her side. She’s blocked the Obsidian side of the family, except cousin Tiff, who invites her to a family reunion in honor of Minah’s mother, Sandra. Pulled back into the world of family secrets and drama, Minah finds out that Sandra died four months ago, and she decides to go home to Obsidian to be part of the reunion. Obsidian is gentrifying, but the dynamics with her cousins and twin sister Fatima, who is a mother to two-year-old Robin, are the same. Minah stays in Sandra’s bedroom and learns about her mother’s desires and conflicted feelings about motherhood by looking through journals and keepsakes. Descriptions of the bodega in Crown Heights, Nana’s house, conversations with her cousins, and memories as a family of four pop off the page and are beautifully described. Interspersed between Minah’s chapters are what turn out to be Sandra’s voice, narrating her struggles with drug addiction. Fatima’s decision not to join Minah’s and Pop’s move is somewhat loosely explained at the end, but otherwise the narrative arc is poignant and revealing.
VERDICT A unique bildungsroman about growing up with an inconsistent and absent mother that is grounded in Iloh’s expert craftsmanship for character and setting. An excellent purchase for high school libraries.

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