I had the pleasure of reading Susan Ross’ debut middle grade novel, Kiki and Jacques last week.
Here’s the gist of the plot from the jacket cover:
Eleven-year-old Jacques is facing a difficult family situation. His mother has passed away, his father is jobless and drinking again and his grandmother’s bridal store is on the verge of going out of business. Plus he’s under pressure from an older boy to join in some illegal activities. At least Jacques can look forward to the soccer season. After all, he’s a shoe-in for captain.
But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes up nearly everything in Jacques’s Franco American Maine town, including the soccer team. So why does Jacques find himself drawn to Kiki, a Somali immigrant who is his chief rival’s sister?
I loved every bit of this marvelous story. Ross describes small town life in vivid detail, with all its deep ties and long memories. Lakemont, Maine is a town that is short on money and long on community ties – everyone knows everyone’s stories: happy, sad, or troubled. In such a close knit community, one that shares strong French Canadian roots , the arrival any one new takes getting used to. Immigrants from Somalia, with entirely different clothing, religion and traditions, however, take even more getting used to. But, with kindness and empathy, anything is possible.
Ross deftly weaves all the elements of a great story (suspense, friendship woes, plot twists, and middle school drama) with issues of social justice (prejudice, justice, and fairness). This is a marvelous addition to our classroom libraries of books that explore cultural diversity as well as economic hardship and peer pressure. I loved that the middle school characters and the issues they faced were real, and I know that my sixth graders will be in equal parts engrossed in the story as well as become informed about the plight of refugees fleeing political turmoil (or, in some cases, outright genocide) and the hardships of moving from place to place in search of a new home.
I can’t wait to book talk Kiki and Jacques with my students, and see it make its way from one to another.
Here is a wonderful interview, in which the author describes her purpose in writing Kiki and Jacques: