The Talk

Holt. May 2023. 352p. pap. $23.99. ISBN 9781250349958.
Gr 10 Up–Through the lens of his life experiences, Bell shows readers how racism affects the way Black youth learn to navigate the world. “The Talk” refers to the lecture Black children are given to help them understand how they are viewed differently from other children, and how to survive police encounters. The lessons start early—Bell’s mother explains to him that his water gun must be green so it can’t be mistaken for a real weapon. But even heeding her words and opting for a green toy gun didn’t prevent him, as a six-year-old, from being threatened by police over the toy. Bell takes us from his youth through to current day, presenting how he navigated racism alongside his growth as a cartoonist taking on social issues. The powerful ending demonstrates how the sum of his experiences impacted the way he guides his own children. Bell is the first Black editorial cartoonist to win the Pulitzer Prize, and the inclusion of some of his work adds depth to the story. He faces difficult issues around racial and social upheaval in the U.S. clearly and boldly. The art is dramatic and expressive, conveying powerful emotions that words alone cannot. Breaking out of a confining panel structure makes the story bigger yet more personal.
VERDICT This story, told with equally powerful narrative and illustrations, gives a poignant explanation of racism’s toxic effects on individuals, communities, and society at large—and what it might take to heal. The Talk belongs in all libraries serving teens.

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