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What the Fireflies Knew

40/30 | Started 09.16.22 • Finished 09.24.22 | 3.5 stars rounded up

This coming-of-age novel about 11-year-old Kenyatta Bernice, "KB" for short, is at once heartbreaking and infuriating and moving. After her father dies of an overdose and her mother loses their Detroit home, KB and her sister Nia are taken to Lansing to live with their mother's father, known as Grandaddy. I enjoyed reading the story in KB's voice; I think it enhanced her vulnerability and drew a tighter connection between reader and narrator.

I feel the sting of tears before I make it back to my room. As soon as my door is closed, they fall from my eyes like traitors.

Like any pre-teen, KB yearns to be let in on all the secrets that are kept just out of her reach. And between where her mother really is, why her mother and Grandaddy don't get along, the changes taking place in her relationship with Nia, there are a lot of them. Over the course of a summer, we learn how KB comes to learn of these secrets, and others she doesn't necessarily want to know.

I wanna know it always, but I always wanna leave. This is how I spend each moment: busy loving and hating, having and letting go.

I'm totally sold on the creation of Harris's characters, especially KB and Grandaddy. KB's innocence in the face of so much dysfunction is extremely well communicated, as is her confusion about what's going on around her. She is confronted by so much over that summer - from racism to promiscuity, depression to abandonment. Her desire to be like her sister while at the same time abhorring what she sees going on with her is also quite believable. How often we wish for the supposed freedom that someone else seems to be grabbing hold of, all the while hating the results. Meanwhile, Grandaddy is a grizzly bear with a soft heart, made both harder and softer over time as he deals with the estrangement from KB's mother.

the space between us feels smaller now, like it’s packed tight and cramped with all the stuff we ain’t gon’ say.

Be warned, there is some troubling content that is important to the story but easily skimmed over. I won't spoil the story by telling you what happens to KB and her relationships, but I will say that her resilience is heavily evident, as it seems to be in many real-life children who suffer and survive as KB does. Worth the read.

It’s like I’m standing in a field full of fireflies, struggling to catch ’em all, when really, I just gotta slow down and catch one.
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