Salt the Water

Dutton. Oct. 2023. 288p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593529317.
Gr 9 Up–Cerulean Gene lives in two worlds: at home where their parents have always nurtured and encouraged them, building a warm, accepting environment too open for them ever to fill, and at school where they’re too loud, too smart, and too free to possibly fit into the small, rigid space. When the pandemic swelled and schools were closed, it seemed for a moment that the educational system might evolve, but soon the old paradigm asserted itself, and now Cerulean and their like-minded group of friends are stuck in a system that seems determined to make them small. Mr. Schlauss, a young and arrogant white teacher, is constantly watching and waiting for Cerulean to make even the slightest mistake. After a confrontation with Mr. Schlauss leaves Cerulean’s future at school uncertain and a tragedy shatters their home, Cerulean must find a way forward in a world that is unwilling to expand. Iloh’s lyrical words, impactful text formatting, and raw emotion imbue this story with authentic joy and pain. Although a sudden ending may leave readers with more questions than answers, this timely exploration of the many shortcomings of the U.S. public education system will be sure to generate much discussion among students and teachers alike. All major characters are Black, and Cerulean and several of their friends are queer.
VERDICT A heartfelt lament for what America could be but chooses not to, this is a must-purchase for high school libraries. Recommended for fans of Ibi Zoboi and Amber McBride.

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