The Golden Hour

Little, Brown. Oct. 2021. 256p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780316540377.
Gr 4-7–In the wake of witnessing gun violence at school, Manuel Soto struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic attacks. When a teacher pairs him with classmates Sebastian and Caysha for a group project, the ensuing friendship takes him by surprise. Manuel discovers that taking cell phone photos of Sebastian’s family’s cattle farm and his new friends anchors him when anxiety seems overwhelming. He joins the 4-H club to help Sebastian and Caysha prepare to show their animals at the county fair and finds the courage to enter his photography into a contest. But he struggles to convey his anxiety and PTSD to his busy single mother, instead turning to gentle Sebastian, who seems to understand Manuel intuitively, as romance blossoms. Smith weaves a beautiful story of resilience and the sweet onset of first love. Scenes at Sebastian’s farm rely on warm, comforting colors; when Manuel has panic attacks, the art turns dark and suffocating as artwork bleeds out of each panel. Smith knows when to let Manuel’s burgeoning artistic identity speak, leaving whole pages free of dialogue to show him carefully framing a shot or considering how to capture a sunset. Manuel and Sebastian’s queer first love subplot is affirming and positive. Manuel is Latinx, Sebastian is white, and Caysha is Black.
VERDICT A stunning work of self-discovery, vulnerability, and finding beauty beyond tragedy, this is the perfect primer for younger readers not quite ready for the work of Tillie Walden and Kevin Panetta.

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